INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana lawmakers pressed ahead Tuesday with an effort to outlaw gay marriage under the state constitution, but the version that cleared the House wouldn't be able to take effect until 2016 at the earliest because of a late change leaving open the possibility of same-sex civil unions someday.
The proposed ban, which the House approved 57-40 Tuesday afternoon, now heads to the Indiana Senate, where members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are set to take up the issue.
"The future of marriage belongs in the hands of Hoosier voters; not judges, not the media, not activists, not lobbyists," said Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, and the author of proposed ban.
The vote followed weeks of uncertainty for a measure that swept through the General Assembly with ease just three years ago. House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, took the unusual step last week of moving the measure to a more conservative House committee after it became apparent the measure might not pass the committee. But he washed his hands of the measure Monday night, shortly after members of his own caucus joined with House Democrats to change it.
House lawmakers removed a sentence in the proposed ban that would have banned civil unions and potentially barred employers from providing benefits to same-sex employees. Republicans who joined with House Democrats to alter the measure expressed concerns that the ban went too far by barring future approval of civil unions.
However, that alteration potentially pushes back the soonest the measure could go before voters to November 2016. Indiana's constitutional amendment process requires the same measure be approved in two consecutive two-year sessions of the General Assembly then be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters.
But legislative attorneys counselled Republican leaders that altering the language of the ban would likely require lawmakers to give it a second approval when they convene their next two-year session.
The question could easily become moot, however, depending on what the Senate does. Senators have the ability to amend the measure back to its original form. If senators restore the measure to its original form, they could set the ban back on track for an appearance on November's ballot.
House Democrats delivered emotional pleas in opposition of the ban Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said the ban reminded her of the discrimination she faced as the first woman to join the Hammond police force decades ago.
"Discrimination is an ugly, mean thing," she said. "There's absolutely no reason that anybody in this world should be discriminated against."
But Democrats were unable to ply Republicans quite the same way as they had just a day earlier, when 23 Republicans joined House Democrats in removing the section of the ban that would bar civil unions.
Eleven House Republicans joined with 29 House Democrats in opposing the measure, but 57 Republicans delivered a strong margin of victory for supporters of the proposed ban, House Joint Resolution 3.