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Indiana House modifies anti-marriage equality amendment, making 2014 voter referendum unlikely

Marriage equality

In a very big development out of Indiana yesterday, the state House has voted to modify a proposed amendment that would ban marriage equality in the state constitution, almost certainly putting off until 2016 a potential voter referendum that had been anticipated for this November.  The Louisville, Kentucky-based Courier-Journal reports:

The House voted 52-43 to remove the proposed constitutional amendment’s second sentence, which would have banned civil unions and similar arrangements. That leaves only the first sentence, which would still ban gay marriages.

If the altered version is adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, the measure would not go to voters this November as supporters — including Gov. Mike Pence — would like. The full House is expected to vote on the altered resolution Tuesday.

Opponents saw pulling the second sentence as an important victory in a state where lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the resolution in 2011. More than 100 gathered on the fourth floor of the Statehouse after the vote, cheering and yelling loudly, hugging and high-fiving each other.

The procedure for a voter referendum on a constitutional amendment in Indiana requires a proposed amendment to be approved by two sessions of the state legislature with an intervening election.  Then, the measure must be approved by voters.  Because of those rules, if the modified amendment is passed by the legislature this year, it will need to be approved again after this November’s election by the new session of the legislature and will not go to voters until the fall of 2016.

That is, as University of Evansville political science department chair Robert Dion put it to the Courier-Journal, a very big deal: “For the moment, it looks like there’s been a sea change in the Republican caucus.  This could not have happened if a sizable number of Republican lawmakers didn’t switch sides.”

As the Bilerico Project points out, though, LGBT advocates in Indiana aren’t out of the woods yet:

After the full House votes on the amendment, the measure will go to the state Senate. If the Senate passes the amendment to strip the second sentence, a popular vote will be delayed until 2016 at the earliest. If, however, they pass HJR-3 as it was originally – without any amendments – the bill will go to a conference committee where the second sentence could be restored. If it is, it could still potentially go to voters in 2014.

Because of this, the coalition against the marriage amendment in Indiana will continue to pressure the legislature in advance of the state Senate vote.  This measure’s still one to keep an eye on, but yesterday’s House vote is a sure sign that the path forward for anti-marriage equality advocates is getting more difficult by the day.

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  • 1. Zack12  |  January 28, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Here's the thing,the civil unions ban got a LOT of grief but I have a feeling with that gone,a lot of the Republicans AND conservative Democrats who voted to remove that will now vote yes,figuring the civil unions bone will be enough to keep us happy.
    Keep in mind the only reason many of them changed their votes is the political grief they've gotten.
    We need to keep it up and not stop until it's gone.

  • 2. Jon  |  January 28, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    For this year, removing the civil unions provision and delaying the vote two years is enough.

    If that happens, the vote would almost certainly be after the Supreme Court decides whether state constitutional bans are legal. Even if we lose there, or the USSC stalls, equality is going to be four years more popular, and the polling is in our favor already. Realistically, this is a vote the Repubs won't want to make in 2015, after further shift in opinion.

  • 3. Rik  |  January 28, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    I also feel like with shifting public opinion it would not pass in 2016 but very likely would in 2014

  • 4. Jon  |  January 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Politically, I think the strategy for the moderate Republicans is as follows:
    2014 is a midterm alection, and midterm turnout usually favors Repubs. Putting this on the ballot in 2014 will increase liberal and youth turnout, which is bad for moderate Repubs in purple districts. Voting to amend the bill lets them show their moderateness while putting off a vote that's not in their interest.

  • 5. Seth From Maryland  |  January 28, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    some interesting news : i'm not saying this will affect the Florida marriage equality case in anyway, but yesterday the state supreme court approved language to place a amendment on the ballot by a 4-3 decision , it seems like the court might be going a little liberal and might rule our favor

  • 6. Seth From Maryland  |  January 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    i mean medical marijuana on the ballot

  • 7. Weaver  |  January 28, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    A two year delay in my mind is very good news indeed.

    With all the changes that are happening across the country, the landscape in two years likely to be even more favorable to us than it is now. The more states that flip nearby, the more likely the local electorate is to reject any attempt at the ballot box to enact inequality. As people in Indiana see that life doesn't fall apart across the border in Illinois with the passage of marriage equality, they will be less likely to ban it. Further, the court cases in Michigan and Ohio, plus the growing movement to get it onto the ballot in Ohio in 16, once those states flip, how far behind will Indiana be?

    Last, by 2016 SCOTUS just might make the whole issue moot.

  • 8. Zack12  |  January 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Scotus will either make the issue moot by 2016 or if they do push for it… put it on the ballot in an election year and as Republicans in Minnesota found out,that is NOT a good thing anymore.

  • 9. Matt  |  January 28, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    I would have thought that if both houses adopted a consensus version of the amendment, they wouldn't have vote on it again in the next session. Talk about a quirky state constitution (that, granted, is working in our favor in this instance).

  • 10. Mike in Baltimore  |  January 28, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I agree that if the proposed amendment goes to 2016, the timing is much more in our favor.

    However, I'm not sure if the vote will have to go to 2016. The Indiana state constitution is unclear whether the proposed amendment must be EXACTLY the same, or substantially the same, when passed by the legislature the second time:

    "ARTICLE 16 Amendments
    Section 1. Amendments
    Section 1. (a) An amendment to this Constitution may be proposed in either branch of the General Assembly. If the amendment is agreed to by a majority of the members elected to each of the two houses, the proposed amendment shall, with the yeas and nays thereon, be entered on their journals, and referred to the General Assembly to be chosen at the next general election.

    (b) If, in the General Assembly so next chosen, the proposed amendment is agreed to by a majority of all the members elected to each House, then the General Assembly shall submit the amendment to the electors of the State at the next general election.

    (c) If a majority of the electors voting on the amendment ratify the amendment, the amendment becomes a part of this Constitution."

    To date, no court in Indiana has ruled on the issue of whether the wording must be EXACTLY, or substantially, the same, and I doubt if a Federal court would take up the case, as it only affects the state of Indiana's constitution, and is not contrary to the US Constitution (different from, but not contrary to).

    The intent of either version of the proposed amendment is to prohibit ME in the state. The first sentence of the proposed amendment is not dependent on the second sentence (excised now [but for how long?] by the House), thus either version would prohibit ME in the state.

    An argument could be made about the Senate not voting as the House voted. Would a conference and/or House vote on the Senate bill, or vice versa, with or without opportunity of amendment [by either chamber] be in accordance with the state constitution?

    And remember, several amendments were made to the state's constitution during the 1960s and 1970s, where the wording of some was not EXACTLY the same when passed a second time in the legislature. The amendments, as passed a second time, were not EXACTLY the same, but substantially the same. No person or group took the passage of the amendments to court, so they became a part of the state constitution.

    Enough questions could be raised that some or all almost certainly would have to be decided in the state court system (which, in itself, would probably delay a vote by the public until 2016, which as stated above, would almost certainly be in our favor.). And enough questions might be raised that some of the current provisions of the state's constitution could be called into question.

  • 11. Stefan  |  January 28, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    The removal of the second sentence does fundamentally change the content of the bill. It's not simple semantics.

  • 12. Mike in Baltimore  |  January 29, 2014 at 12:55 am

    What is the intent of the amendment?

    To prohibit Marriage Equality in the state of Indiana.

    What does the first sentence say?

    (Paraphrasing): Marriage in the state of Indiana is defined as a man and a woman.

    The second sentence prohibits anything that is equivalent to marriage, and the wording is obscure enough for a court case.

  • 13. Rick O.  |  January 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Nevada's Constitutional ammendment process is about the same – and repeal of their marriage equality ban has to pass the legislature one more time before hitting the ballot in 2016. Timing for 2016 seems to be a consensus in purple states. Colorado marriage equality groups got civil unions last year, but are holding off ammendment repeal effort til then in the belief it will surely pass then.

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