GREENFIELD — House Speaker Brian Bosma says Indiana’s gay marriage battle is bound to wind up in court regardless of what happens early next week when the full House considers the constitutional ban.
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, found himself front and center on the issue this week when he maneuvered the bill from one committee to another in order to get it before the full House.
Now, Bosma, who represents the northwestern part of Hancock County, says it’s hard to tell what will happen with the controversial issue next week, let alone where it could go in the long run.
“If we enact the measure, there will be court action on it,” said Bosma, who also is an attorney. “If we don’t enact the measure, there will be, I believe, an immediate lawsuit to overturn the statute. It probably doesn’t matter what we do here. I think someone is going to take this to court.”
State law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage would solidify the issue, making it harder to overturn it in court.
While the ban is still perceived to have strong support in the GOP-controlled House, it would also have to be approved by the state Senate before it goes before all voters this November.
But the second sentence of the ban could become the sticking point of the entire measure. It would bar any future approval of civil unions and potentially ban employer benefits for same-sex couples. That clause has prompted concern from both parties.
Opponents of the ban are focusing their efforts now on the wording of the measure in an effort to turn back the clock on the multiyear approval process.
“Just like anything in the legislative process, there are a hundred ways to kill a bill. We’ve gone through two of them,” said Megan Robertson, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the umbrella group representing opponents. “If it were up to me, we would’ve killed it in Judiciary (committee), and we would just beat it outright. But there are a lot of ways to kill it, and the second sentence could be a part of that.”
Changing the second sentence of the proposed constitutional amendment would reset the approval process supporters launched in 2011.
Amending the state constitution requires passage through two consecutive two-year meetings of the General Assembly, followed by approval of the voters. The state Legislature has already approved it once, but changing the wording would restart that process, effectively making 2016 the earliest that voters could see the measure on a ballot.
But Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who is up for re-election in 2016, hinted at the political peril of appearing on the ballot with the marriage amendment when he included a line in his State of the State address asking lawmakers to settle the issue this year.
Bosma said Friday he’d like to see the measure go before all Hoosiers for a vote.
Bosma said he received a lot of feedback – “both appreciation and what I guess I’d call hate mail” – on his decision this week to move the measure from one committee to another to get it heard before the full House.
“I’ve said from the start on this issue that it has been my goal to allow the people to be represented through their elected representatives and have a vote on the floor,” Bosma said.
Still, an amendment that would change the wording of the second sentence could prevent the issue from going to voters this fall, Bosma acknowledged, and it’s hard to say what will happen when it’s heard Monday. A final vote in the House could be taken as early as Tuesday.
“If anybody tells you they know one thing or another is going to happen, I don’t think understands the intense lobbying effort that’s going on, on both sides of the issue,” Bosma said. “It’s probably more extensive than anything I’ve seen, pushing into very polar directions.”
Other legislators representing Hancock County are split on the issue. Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, says he’d vote in favor of the ban, simply for the fact that he’d like local residents to be able to vote on it themselves. A constituent survey, Cherry added, verifies that.
“I don’t think they’re against gay marriage; a lot of people want to have the right to vote on it in the polls, whether it’s in the constitution,” he said.
But Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, says he disagreed with Bosma’s maneuver this week to get the measure out of committee. Eberhart stands against the measure entirely.
“It doesn’t belong in the constitution,” Eberhart said. “We already have a state law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and to go one step further and put it in the constitution, it’s not where it belongs. I’m a limited-government, personal-freedom guy, and this flies in the face of both…. The constitution is a document that affords rights to every Hoosier. It doesn’t have restrictions in it, especially at one specific group.”
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, says it’s still too early to tell how he will vote on the issue. If the second sentence is removed, after all, Crider says, the issue could be pushed back a couple of years anyway.
“Until you get to the time where it’s time to vote, and you’ve seen what the language is you’re going to vote on, and you’ve seen the legal counseling you get in caucus, … it’s really not wise to say, ‘Yes, I’m absolutely going to vote for this,’ because you don’t know what you’re going to be voting on,” Crider said.
Meanwhile, Bosma is standing behind his decision to move the bill to another committee this week so the entire House can weigh in.
“Most Hoosiers want to speak on this issue,” Bosma said. “I haven’t done a vote count; I haven’t taken a poll on the members of the House to see if it would pass on the floor or not. But having the bill come to the floor allows Hoosiers to speak through their elected representatives.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.