HJR-3 Passes House After Removal of Messy Language

The fate of Indiana’s proposed gay-marriage ban now lies with the Senate.

On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives voted 52-43 to approve a provision that altered House Joint Resolution 3 (HJR-3), with 23 Republicans joining 29 Democrats saying “aye.” That provision, authored by Rep. Randy Truitt (R-West Lafayette), struck the controversial second sentence of the proposed marriage amendment, which read, “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

The vote moved the state’s same-sex marriage ban through to its third reading, which House Speaker Brian Bosma set for today.

HJR-3’s first sentence basically rehashes what is already Indiana law—that a marriage can be between only one man and one woman. Opponents argued that the second sentence would have made civil unions unlawful as well, and many in the Statehouse let out cheers of victory when the revised measure passed.

“There is no way of knowing what other dangers [the second sentence] represents,” Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) told IM after the vote, explaining his motivation for voting “aye” on the revised amendment. Previously, during his time at the mic on the House floor, he had stated that the “only way to fix HJR-3 would be to delete both sentences.” Yet the first remains intact.

Concerns over the removed sentence centered on the fact that it broadened the amendment beyond keeping marriage between one man and one woman. Monday’s vote did not allow for marriage-like relationships between same-sex partners to be considered legally sound, however; it merely kept them from being banned altogether in the future.

Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero), original author of the marriage amendment, had previously attempted to allay concerns over that controversial second sentence by drafting House Bill 1153 (HB 1153) as an explanation of the amendment’s “legislative intent.” To many, though, the bill was a red flag that there were problems with the amendment. The “intent” bill was not heard on Monday but will come before the House at a later date.

Turner defended his resolution as written during Monday’s debate. “Taking out the second sentence would prolong [the amendment process] for two to three years,” he said.

Indeed, depending on what happens in the Senate, the process could go back to square one.

“It depends on what happens during the rest of the session,” Clere told IM. “The Senate could put the second sentence back in.” In that case, the amendment process would likely start over.

If the Senate does not put the second sentence back in the amendment or change any key elements of the measure, it could pass by a larger vote. As is, the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

Freedom Indiana, an advocacy group opposed to HJR-3, celebrated in the hall after the House passed the altered amendment. Campaign manager Megan Robertson proclaimed the vote was a “huge victory.” Thunderous applause followed. Although the vote did mark a symbolic win for the group, it could be a catch-22. With the messy language removed, the amendment might pass both chambers of the General Assembly with less resistance and then be approved by voters in a November referendum—an outcome opponents want to avoid.

The question for supporters of the same-sex marriage ban is this: If the clock is reset on their amendment, will time run out before it can come full circle? It is quite possible that the question of a marriage amendment would have a different outcome in 2016 than it might yet this year. At the least, it could encounter even stronger resistance. Those who wish to see the already-standing definition of marriage added to the Indiana Constitution seem to know that it might be now or never.