INDIANAPOLIS – Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings on two major gay marriage cases set the stage for an epic Indiana battle next year.
While striking down a federal prohibition on benefits for legally married gay couples, the court left it up to individual states to define marriage.
That means Indiana lawmakers can now push forward on a state constitutional ban against gay marriage. State law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
And supporters of the ban have the governor in their corner.
“Now that the Supreme Court has had its say on the federal government’s role in defining marriage, the people of Indiana should have their say about how marriage is understood and defined in our state,” Gov. Mike Pence said. “I am confident that Hoosiers will reaffirm our commitment to traditional marriage and will consider this important question with civility and respect for the values and dignity of all of the people of our state.
“I look forward to supporting efforts by members of the Indiana General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter consideration next year.”
GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma said he is confident the matter will “come before the General Assembly and ultimately be placed on a referenda ballot for voter consideration. As they have in 30 other states, Hoosiers should have the right to speak on this issue.”
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he would seek legal advice on the recent rulings.
“That being said, I fully anticipate that both the Senate and House will be voting on a marriage amendment next session,” he said.
If on the ballot, it will likely be the most significant item for Hoosiers to consider next year.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said “I’m embarrassed for those that continue to press the case for inequality.
“There is no need to muddy up our state’s highest document with an amendment that is likely to be a blemish on Indiana’s history.”
The proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution to ban gay marriage first passed in 2011, but lawmakers must pass it a second time to send the matter to the public for a vote in November 2014.
Legislative leaders this year decided to wait to act until after the anticipated U.S. Supreme Court rulings to act.
The proposed amendment reads, “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
The second sentence would ban future legislators from enacting civil unions in the future and might affect a host of other laws.
Public sentiment has shifted dramatically since Republicans started the process – then claiming it was the most critical issue on the table. In late 2012, a poll conducted by the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University found that Indiana residents are evenly divided on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, while a majority supports civil unions.
Fifty-four percent oppose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Indiana.
But Pelath said opponents can’t take a defeat at the ballot box for granted.
“While there is a good chance that those in favor of marriage equality would prevail when you get big money involved, when you get right-wing interest groups involved, there’s no guarantee there,” he said.
Even if the constitutional amendment was defeated at the ballot, it remains in Indiana law.
Indiana Equality Action President Chris Paulsen said he hopes lawmakers will forsake the effort.
“It runs counter to our core Hoosier values and creates a host of unintended legal consequences,” he said. “Whatever the General Assembly decides, we will be prepared either to support their decision to abandon (House Joint Resolution 6) or to fight the amendment in every community across our state. Hoosiers value kindness and love, and we all deserve to live in a state that doesn’t write inequality into its Constitution.”