House committee stalls on constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

House committee stalls on constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage

Representative Terri Austin (D-Anderson) Representative Terri Austin (D-Anderson)

Indianapolis - A proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage appears dead for this year after failing to clear a key House committee, and some lawmakers said the nail in its coffin may have been the measure's second provision.

The proposed amendment contained two parts. The first states that marriage in Indiana is the union of one man and one woman. The second provision includes a phrase that says state law "may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

The House Rules Committee voted 5-5 Tuesday on the resolution supporting the amendment. Since the resolution failed to gain a majority, the highly contentious measure that has stirred emotional debate for weeks failed to pass.

Several lawmakers who voted against the proposal said they were concerned about the potential consequences of the second section. Some Indiana companies and university employees have lobbied lawmakers, saying that section could stop public and private entities from providing benefits to domestic partners. The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence fears the amendment could nullify domestic violence laws that protect both married and unmarried couples.

Committee Chairman Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the state should not change the constitution without knowing all the consequences of the amendment.

"Once the constitution's amended, you don't get a second shot," he said.

But supporters said the proposal would simply stop courts from forcing the government to provide same-sex benefits. They say it does not prohibit the government, public employers or anyone else from voluntarily offering such benefits, and that domestic violence statutes would not be affected.

Rep. Eric Turner, R-Marion, said concerns over domestic violence laws and domestic partner benefits were unfounded. He said that argument was an effort by opponents to delay implementation of the proposed amendment.

"I don't buy the argument," he said.

Five Democrats voted against the measure and four Republicans and one Democrat voted for it. Pelath said the emotional issue is over for this legislative session.

"I consider the matter dispensed with," Pelath said. "We took a vote and the matter is dispensed with."

Resolution sponsor Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, agreed that the proposal appeared dead.

However, the issue could come up again next year.

Amending Indiana's constitution requires a resolution to pass consecutive, separately elected General Assemblies and then be approved in a statewide vote. The Legislature passed the proposal in 2005, so if it is approved either this year or in 2008, it could appear on the November 2008 ballot.

Lawmakers have been heavily lobbied on the issue by supporters and opponents. They have heard from gay rights organizations and conservative family associations and been bombarded with e-mails and phone calls. They have seen hundreds come to Statehouse rallies - more than 1,000 people supporting the amendment last week and more than 200 opposing the amendment in February.

Legislators also have also heard from big business. Several Indiana companies - including Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins Inc., WellPoint and Emmis Communications - have spoken out against the proposal, saying it might affect domestic partner benefits and would send a message to prospective employees that Indiana is not welcoming or inclusive.

Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson) gave a tearful explanation of her vote.

"I hope that when I leave here, nobody goes out and says, Representative Terri Austin supports gay marriage, because it's not true and everybody knows it. But I also am not gonna be reckless and wanton in my decisions that affect the lives of six million Hoosiers. I have cried over this. I have prayed over it. I have sought the advice of everybody I know to try to make a decision that's right in my heart and I know some people are gonna be disappointed in me and I'll accept it. And I'm gonna lose the respect of folks that I hold dear, but with that, Mr. Chairman, and for those reasons, and because we are unwilling to give this issue more time right now, which I hope we can, I'm gonna vote no," said Austin.

(Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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