INDIANAPOLIS - Gay couples in Indiana might eventually be able to enter into civil unions, but not marriages, under changes the House pushed Monday that could effectively delay a constitutional ban on same sex-weddings.
Opponents of the marriage ban got a temporary victory with a bipartisan vote to remove a sentence from the proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred civil unions in addition to marriages. Indiana law currently limits marriage to being between one man and one woman, but supporters are looking to strengthen that ban by placing it in the constitution.
If the altered amendment clears the House and eventually the Senate, it could restart the clock on the legislative process for amending the state constitution. Under the amendment process, the same measure must be approved in two consecutive sessions and then by voters, so the earliest approval date for a potential ban could be pushed back to 2016.
Activists gathered outside the chamber cheered loudly after the 52-43 vote to remove the sentence from House Joint Resolution 3.
But much could change between now and the end of the 2014 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up in Mid-March.
Supporters of the marriage ban argued that removing the second sentence could also increase the chances of the state drawing a court challenge to the proposed constitutional amendment.
"I believe HJR 3, as written, is the right public policy for the state of Indiana," said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and the author of the marriage ban. "The second sentence simply prevent s marriage by any other name."
The sentence has been a sticking point for many lawmakers, including some who have said they otherwise support banning gay marriage. Opponents have focused their efforts on striking the language and have argued that it could prevent employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples.
Supporters of the measure said Monday that similar language in other states hasn't had that effect.
Twenty-three Republicans joined 29 Democrats to strip out the second sentence. Outright opponents of HJR 3 joined with lawmakers who said their concerns lies only with that second sentence to alter the measure.
"The only way to fix HJR 3 is to delete both sentences," said Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, who opposes HJR 3 outright.