INDIANAPOLIS - After notching a pair of U.S. Supreme Court victories, gay rights advocates in Indiana say they now hope to stop Republican leaders' effort to amend a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution.
The nation's high court on Wednesday struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and gave the green light to same-sex marriages in California. But it did not require all states to recognize same-sex marriages.
That set the stage for a high-profile Statehouse battle over the issue, as Gov. Mike Pence and top Indiana Republican legislative leaders pledged to continue their push to place a constitutional same-sex marriage and civil union ban on the November 2014 ballot.
"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," Pence said in a statement.
"Given that opportunity, 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."
The fight that would happen in two stages – starting in the General Assembly when it convenes again in January, and if lawmakers approve the measure, shifting to a campaign environment as advocates and opponents try to win the statewide referendum.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long said Wednesday that they expect that their chambers will vote on the measure.
"As they have in 30 other states, Hoosiers should have the right to speak on this issue," said Bosma, R-Indianapolis.
Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he is asking Senate staff and outside legal experts "to conduct a thorough analysis of the case with a goal of providing guidance for the General Assembly as we contemplate a constitutional amendment on the definition of marriage in 2014.
"That being said, I fully anticipate that both the Senate and House will be voting on a marriage amendment next session."
In the moments after Wednesday's rulings were announced, advocates for gay marriage rights in Indiana said they now have more work to do on the state level.
"We are enormously encouraged by today's Supreme Court rulings, but we know that it will have little effect on the legislative situation in our state," said Chris Paulsen, the president of the pro-gay rights group Indiana Equality Action.
Referring to the measure by its legislative moniker – House Joint Resolution 6 – Paulsen said the group is preparing to mount campaigns to lobby lawmakers during their 2014 session and, if necessary, the public ahead of the 2014 election.
"Proponents of HJR6, which would permanently alter the Indiana Constitution to prohibit marriage equality, said earlier this year they would wait for the Supreme Court to act before charting their legislative course," Paulsen said.
"We hope they will forsake HJR6, but we are preparing to launch a grassroots educational outreach campaign opposing the amendment should they pursue its passage."
The Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and ruled that defenders of California's same-sex marriage ban did not have legal standing. In effect, the rulings extend full federal and state marriage benefits to same-sex couples in 13 states and Washington, D.C., but do not affect the 37 states that currently ban same-sex marriage.
Indiana already has a law on the books limiting marriage to one man and one woman. The state does not allow civil unions, nor does it recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states.
The proposed Indiana constitutional 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 – which bans civil unions or any other legal recognition of same-sex couples' relationships – could be the proposed amendment's most controversial element, since some lawmakers say they see it as a problem even though they support defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Indiana opponents of same-sex marriage said they, too, plan to continue pressing their position when lawmakers reconvene next year.
Curt Smith, the president of the Indiana Family Institute and an influential member of the state's Republican circles, said that "the debate over marriage continues."
"We believe voters – not activist judges – should decide the definition of marriage. Because the court decision applies only to California, we will continue to support an Indiana constitutional amendment on one man, one woman marriage," he said.
"If Indiana's General Assembly passes a marriage resolution in 2014 as part of the constitutional amendment process, voters will have the opportunity to decide the future of marriage at the ballot box. We urge the General Assembly to make passing a marriage
resolution a priority when they reconvene in January."
The state Senate's minority leader, Democrat Tim Lanane of Anderson, has no power to actually block votes on the constitutional ban from taking place, since Republicans have two-thirds supermajorities in both the House and the Senate.
However, he said Wednesday that it is "imperative" for the state's economy that the "best and brightest" feel welcome.
"I believe these are a pair of landmark decisions for civil rights in our country where the Supreme Court has chosen to clear a path for same sex marriages to be recognized," Lanane said.
"Moving forward, it is my hope that Indiana becomes a state that welcomes all, regardless of their sexual orientation, rather than taking unnecessary measures to make Indiana inhospitable."
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office filed a legal brief on behalf of Indiana and other states in support of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, said he is reviewing the court's opinions and will advise lawmakers on its impact.
"While my office is duty bound to defend the authority of our state legislature and their decisions, I recognize that people have strongly held and vastly different views on the issue of marriage and ask that everyone show respect with civility to our Supreme Court and our constitutional system," Zoeller said.
"Regardless of the different views people may hold, marriage should be a source of unity and not division."