INDIANAPOLIS - A panel of Indiana lawmakers approved a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage Wednesday night, setting up a battle in the full House of Representatives.
The House Elections and Apportionment Committee voted 9-3 in favor of the ban, after more than four hours of sometimes emotional testimony inside the House chamber. The vote followed a week of internal debate among House Republicans and a power play by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, that lined up the affirmative vote Wednesday.
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, surprised many Tuesday by moving the proposed ban from the House Judiciary Committee to the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. The measure stalled last week when supporters could not find the votes needed to push the ban through the Judiciary Committee, spurring Bosma to seek other ways to advance the measure to the full House.
The ban won the support of all the committee's Republicans, but at least one cautioned that his support could hinge on changes to the measure.
"I was willing to bring it to the floor, and when it comes to the floor we'll take a look at it then," said Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne. Cox said he would like to remove a sentence from the ban that likely bans civil unions and could ban employer benefits for same-sex couples.
Three Democrats on the committee amounted to the only "no" votes Wednesday, and one conservative Democrat was excused because of a medical emergency.
It's a far cry from 2011, when bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate signed off on the amendment. The ban must pass the Legislature a second time then go before voters in order to be placed in the constitution. But a shift in public attitudes and a strong organizing effort from opponents in the state's business and higher education communities have caused many lawmakers to reconsider their support for the amendment.
Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, went before the new House panel Wednesday with the same arguments he delivered last week. Indiana, he said, needs to join other states that have enshrined the definition of marriage in their state constitutions.
"We've been debating this since 2004. It's time to put this debate to rest and let Hoosier voters decide," he said.
Opponents of the ban, led by the group Freedom Indiana, again outnumbered supporters at the second hearing. Activists wore red clothes and waved their hands in the air silently instead of clapping during testimony.
The hearings have been largely tepid events, with few outbursts, unlike the rowdy education and labor fights held in 2011 and 2012. House Elections Chairman Milo Smith, R-Columbus, asked activists to remain quiet and respectful through the hearing.
But testimony from a lawyer with the conservative Family Research Council arguing that gay marriage court rulings could pave the way for legalization of polygamy drew laughter throughout the crowd. Smith asked the crowd to pipe down, and when one activist gave Smith a thumbs down, Smith had him removed from the chamber.
Opponents of the amendment relied on business leaders again Wednesday to lay out their argument. Executives for engine-maker Cummins and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly have said such an amendment could make it difficult to recruit talent from around the world.
Marya Rose, general counsel with Columbus-based Cummins, on Wednesday sought to discredit testimony from supporters who were flown in from out of state.
"For some reason I feel compelled to let you know I am a lifelong Hoosier," she said, to laughs from opponents of the measure.
Democrats on the House elections committee complained of the short notice they received from Bosma that the measure would be taken up Wednesday afternoon. The panel planned to vote on the ban after Wednesday's hearing.