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February 8, 2013

State stalls same-sex marriage vote

INDIANAPOLIS — Citing uncertainty about the how the U.S. Supreme Court may rule on same-sex marriage bans, Republican legislative leaders have decided to delay a vote on putting such a ban into Indiana’s constitution.

At a joint press conference Thursday, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long said each of their caucuses decided the measure should wait until the 2014 session – after nation’s highest court weighs in.

Both said that there is no predicting how the Supreme Court may rule on related cases this summer, even with the court’s conversative bent.

Noting that he was surprised that the court upheld the  Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, when fellow Republicans thought the court would strike some or all it down, Long said: “The Supreme Court could surprise us once again.”

Social conservatives in the legislature had been pushing hard for the General Assembly vote on the measure this year, arguing that such a vote could influence the court’s decision.

Long and Bosma, both practicing lawyers, dismissed that idea.

“I don’t think either of us found that argument compelling,” Bosma said.

The decision to delay the vote temporarily stalls a constitutional amendment process started in 2011, when the Indiana legislature overwhelmingly voted to put a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions into the state constitution.

The legislature has approve the same language again this year or next, before it was put to a public vote on the November 2014 ballot.

Bosma, dismissing polling that shows the amendment was losing support among Hoosiers, said he was confident the measure would pass in the legislature and win the public vote.

But both he and Long said if the legislature approved the measure this year, there’d be no way to remove it from the 2014 ballot if the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer that such bans are unconstitutional.

Elections officials with Indiana Secretary of State’s office have said the state would have no authority to remove the question from the ballot, short of an order from an Indiana court.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in two cases in July, long after the Indiana General Assembly ends its 2013 session in April. Those cases involve questions about whether same-sex couples can be denied the federal benefits available to heterosexual couples and the constitutionality of California’s state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The decision to delay the vote was supported by state Sen. Luke Kenley of Noblesville, one of the first Republicans in the Senate to publicly oppose the amendment.

Kenley, the influential Senate appropriations chairman, had voted for it in 2011, but vowed to vote against the amendment this time, saying public opinion on same-sex marriage and civil unions was rapidly evolving.

“I think a year’s worth of experience will be beneficial for all of us (in the legislature) in tryng to decide where we want to be on this,” Kenley said.

That sentiment was echoed by state Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, the only Republican legislator who voted against the amendment in 2011.

“Even if there were a vote this year, the question couldn’t appear on the ballot until next year, so the delay doesn’t change anything as far as that timing,” Clere said. “Opinion on this issue is changing rapidly, and waiting will give everyone time for additional discernment.”

Clere also said he will continue to oppose the amendment.

Two recent polls have shown waning support for the amendment. In October, the Howey/DePauw Indiana Battleground Poll showed only 45 percent of Hoosier voters would support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Among younger voters, the percentage was much less.

The 2012 Hoosier Survey done by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University in December. That poll found that while Indiana residents are evenly split on the question of whether same-sex marriage should be legalized, 54 percent are against putting a ban on it into the state constitution.

The amendment is also opposed by One Voice Indiana, an organization that favors marriage equality. Dr. Bill Buffie, an Indianapolis internist who helped launch the group, said public opinion is rapidly changing on the issue.

He disagrees with Bosma’s assertion, voiced Thursday, that most Hoosiers want a same-sex marriage and civil union ban put into the constitution.

“No legislation or referendum of the voters will stem the changing tide of public opinion,” Buffie said.

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

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