FORT WAYNE, Ind. - A panel of delegates at the Indiana Republican convention defeated an effort Friday to strip a definition of marriage from the party platform, setting up a potential showdown over a divisive clause similar to one that was removed from the document two years ago.
The language defines marriage as between a man and a woman but also recognizes that other nontraditional families make valuable contributions to society.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, acting as co-chair of the party's resolution committee, blocked an effort to remove the language and said it was out of order. Opponents of the gay marriage language then appealed Ellspermann's ruling but lost on a 4-4 vote of the resolutions committee.
The 15 minutes of procedural wrangling inside the resolutions committee Friday afternoon prefaced an expected fight on the issue during Saturday's meeting of the delegates.
Gay marriage has been a tough issue for Indiana's Republicans this year. Supporters of placing an existing ban on gay marriage in the state constitution failed in their efforts during the legislative session earlier this year. Republican lawmakers stripped language from that proposal that would have banned future approval of civil unions, but in doing so also reset the clock on the state's lengthy constitutional amendment process.
Gay marriage supporters claimed victory at the end of the session, but the issue is far from settled. At the time, some lawmakers said they were waiting on the U.S. Supreme Court to make a final decision on the issue. Meanwhile the issue has bubbled up in Indiana's federal courts. A federal judge in southern Indiana granted temporary recognition to one Indiana gay couple's out-of-state marriage last month.
The fight has revived fault lines in the party which appeared during the marriage battle in the General Assembly earlier this year. Opponents of gay marriage suffered an upset when lawmakers narrowly decided to keep a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage from the ballot this November.
Mindy Westrick, a member of the resolutions committee representing Indianapolis, led the effort to pull the language from the platform. If Ellspermann had allowed debate on the issue, opponents of the language had a good shot at winning, she said shortly after the vote.
"It's my belief there would have been a different vote and we would have been able to have a discussion on the platform language," she said.
Rush County Republican Chairman Mike Dora proposed the language during a meeting of the party's platform committee last month. It was not as hard-line as some social conservatives wanted and was designed to garner more support from Republicans, he said. But, he added, it's impossible to keep everyone happy on every issue.
"I think people are afraid to take a stand, and a party without a stand is no party at all," Dora said.
Gov. Mike Pence, Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, sent letters to delegates endorsing the language the language. It now goes to the all delegates on Saturday.
The Republicans are meeting in Fort Wayne for their 2014 convention.