Bil Browning

IN Legislature Passes Amendment But Loses Battle

Filed By Bil Browning | February 17, 2014 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: constitutional amendment, gay marriage, HJR-3, Indiana, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, SJR-7


Today's 32-17 vote in the Indiana General Assembly to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage may not seem like a cause for celebration at first glance. If you look a little closer though, you'll see that the vote heralds the end of attempts nationwide to write queer couples out of state constitutions.

That time is over. Society has moved on. This was the last time our community will have to play defense on this issue. From now on, we'll only play offense.

Even Indiana's "defeat" was actually a victory. With Republican super majorities in both the state House and Senate, activists knew they didn't have the votes to defeat the amendment outright. They had to think outside of the box.

Indiana law says that any amendment to the state constitution has to pass through two separately elected assemblies with the exact same language both times. If the legislators had passed the amendment as was written when it passed in 2011, it would have gone to the ballot later this fall.

Instead, opponents convinced enough legislators that the second sentence of the proposed amendment, which would also ban civil unions and domestic partnerships, was a step too far. Polling showed that while numbers were close if the amendment went to the ballot, if it also outlawed all other forms of relationship recognition voters opposed it. Corporations, universities, and business groups lined up to tout how the second half could affect them.

Freedom Indiana, the campaign built to fight the amendment, was led by a sharp Republican campaigner and with the backing of most Democrats already in their pocket, they started targeting moderate Republicans. One by one they changed former supporters minds.

Some of the Republicans switched sides entirely, voting no to the amendment as a whole. Others though, were able to ride the fence on the amendment; they would announce their support for "traditional marriage" but also express concern over the second sentence.

In the end, there were enough votes in the House of Representatives to change the amendment by dropping the back half. It still passed, but with only the first sentence. After the state senate passed that version this week, it was official. There would be no vote on marriage equality in 2014 - when there was a chance the amendment could pass.

If supporters want to continue the fight for the amendment, they'll have to convince a separately elected assembly to revisit the topic. If they do, legislators could bring it back up in 2015 or 2016, pass it like currently reads, and put it on the ballot in 2016. Or, with momentum clearly on the side of marriage equality supporters, the bill could be voted down.

That's the conundrum Indiana's legislators have to solve. With public opinion rapidly shifting, Republican leadership had already pushed action on the amendment as far away as they could. Several of them broke party lines to support marriage equality. The sheer number of court cases nationwide is practically overwhelming.

By the time the newly elected assembly convenes, gay and lesbian couples will have even more supporters. National and local organizations and businesses poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into this year's lobbying efforts; the amount they have already pledged to any potential ballot initiative is immense.

Indiana's Republican Governor Mike Pence, best known for his religious right ties as a Congressman and his ambition, pushed the amendment this year so it would go on the 2014 ballot. In 2016, he'll either be running for a second term as Governor or, as it's widely speculated, President. He doesn't want a multimillion dollar progressive campaign happening at the same time he's on that ballot himself.

The rest of the states either already have an amendment or there are no plans to pass one. Most of them are currently tied up with court cases to strike down their constitutional bans and marriage equality supporters have a multi-state winning streak behind them. Nationwide, public opinion is increasing more rapidly than it is in Indiana.

The Indiana Senate's passage of the marriage amendment was the last time the LGBT community will have to struggle against proposed amendments. While Hoosier activists can't tout a complete victory with the passage of the proposed amendment, they can rest easy knowing that they fought the final battle to defend the civil rights of gay and lesbian couples. From here on out, the fight is for justice.

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