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January 9, 2013

Some urging colleagues to wait for high court

INDIANAPOLIS — Some Republican state legislators are calling for the Indiana General Assembly to slow down on the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, offering a variety of reasons why the effort shouldn’t go ahead.

Both publicly and privately, GOP lawmakers are expressing doubts about a measure that saw wide support in past sessions and they cite changing public opinion on whether the state’s current ban on same-sex marriage should be locked into the state’s constitution.

Republican State Rep. Jud McMillin, a Brookville lawyer who sits on the House committee expected to hear the measure, thinks it needs to be put on hold this session. He cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take up the issue of whether state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage are legal and wants the Indiana legislature to wait on the court’s ruling.

“I just think it would be irresponsible for us to be putting something in the public hands when we know the Supreme Court may come down and rule on something that may alter our ability to do that,” McMillin said.

Republican State Rep. Ron Bacon of Boonville, who voted for the constitutional ban two years ago said he wouldn’t vote for it again this time.

Bacon’s reasons are two-fold: He agrees with McMillin that the legislature needs to wait for the court ruling, but he also objects to the language in the measure that would create a constitutional ban on civil unions as well as same-sex marriages.

“That’s a step too far,” Bacon said.

Their concerns are significant, given that Republicans control the Indiana legislature and that the amendment faced almost no GOP opposition in the past.

On the Senate side, both state Sen. Pete Miller of Avon and his fellow Republican state Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville have gone public with their opposition.

Neither are supporters of legalizing same-sex marriage, but both say a sweeping constitutional ban isn’t needed.

“It’s already illegal,” Miller said. “What’s to be gained other than ostracizing a whole section the population?”

Miller echoed the concerns expressed by Republican state Rep. Ed Clair of New Albany. Both Miller and Clere cite the opposition coming from some of Indiana’s biggest employers, such as Columbus, Ind.-based engine maker Cummins, Inc., that say such a ban would hurt their efforts to recruit top talent.

“If we’re trying to attract the best and brightest people to work in Indiana, this doesn’t help,”Miller said. “It’s not just putting out a sign to gays and lesbians saying, ‘You’re not welcome.’ It sends a signal to a lot of talented young people that we’re not a welcoming place.”

Last month, Kenley – an influential, conservative lawmaker who holds the powerful position of Senate appropriations chairman – cited what he called the “rapidly evolving” shift in public opinion on the issue as one of the reasons for his opposition.

Putting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions would handcuff future legislators from altering the current law through the legislative process. Kenley also said he opposed putting what he called “bigoted” language in the state constitution.

Privately, several key Republican lawmakers have told their colleagues that they won’t vote for the measure, which is part of a two-step process that would put the issue to a public referendum in 2014.

The Republican sponsors of the measure in both the House and Senate have told their caucus leaders that they want to vote on it this session, and not wait until 2014.

If the legislature decides to amend the current language to exclude the prohibition on civil unions, it would delay the process. Two separately elected sessions of the General Assembly have to approve identical language for the question to go to a public vote.

On Monday, the opening day of the 2013 session, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, of Michigan City, said Democrats want a “two-year moratorium” on social issues and urged the legislature to focus on jobs, education and the budget.

“People deserve a break from the political exploitation of their fears and emotions as we work to rebuild our economy,” Pelath said.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said he’s “not declaring a moratorium on anything” but also said that he hopes the General Assembly will focus on economic and not social issues this session.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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