INDIANAPOLIS — Opponents of an effort to place Indiana’s gay marriage ban in the state constitution won a surprising victory Thursday as the Senate effectively pushed off a statewide vote on the issue for at least two years, and possibly longer.
In a parliamentary move that spared state senators a tough vote on the measure, the Senate advanced the marriage ban without the “second sentence” ban on civil unions. The House stripped that language from the amendment before passing it last month, and the Senate’s decision not to restore the language before voting Thursday means the effort to amend the constitution must start fresh.
The earliest it could get to voters is 2016.
The expansive language had raised concerns among many lawmakers, including those who otherwise supported limiting marriage to being between one man and one woman.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, is among those who is generally in favor of defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, but he was set Thursday to vote against the measure if someone proposed putting the second sentence back in.
Turns out he didn’t have to.
Indiana requires constitutional amendments to be approved in the same form in two consecutive biennial meetings of the General Assembly. Even if Indiana’s marriage ban clears the Senate on a final vote Monday, it would have to be debated again in the next biennial session, 2015-16, before it could appear before voters.
Crider, who has been leery to say how he’d vote on the issue in recent weeks, said it’s been the most intensely discussed proposal he’s faced.
“I’ve tried to be really responsible by going to dinner with same-sex couples and listening to how the various aspects of the proposals affect them personally and understand this isn’t a decision that’s made in a vacuum,” Crider said. “While I have my personal viewpoints, I have to be responsible as an elected person that I’m considering all the implications and listening to what my constituents say.”
His constituents wanted to vote on the issue themselves, Crider said. Based on a survey, the majority of people in the district that mostly includes Hancock County said they believed in defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, Crider said.
Based on that and his own religious beliefs, Crider said he is in favor of defining marriage that way. But he was against the additional wording that would have barred civil unions and prevented employers from offering benefits to same-sex couples.
Overall, Crider said, his stand was a hard one to come to.
“What I’ve tried to do is be really responsible and keep my mouth shut, basically, and my ears open so I feel comfortable when it’s time to push the final button to vote that I’m making the right decision,” Crider said.
Opponents began organizing early last year and lined up powerful allies in the state’s business and higher education communities to support their arguments.
But supporters of the ban said it was needed to prevent courts from overturning Indiana’s existing law defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. They struggled to find their footing after House lawmakers stripped the civil unions language.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said many lawmakers sensed that the final say on the issue ultimately will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal court ruling overturning Kentucky’s constitutional ban on gay marriage this week was weighed in private discussions among Senate Republicans, and Long said he could sense momentum building for a high court ruling.
“In reality, I think the issue is going to be before the United States Supreme Court – as I’ve said before – and it’s either going to be a state’s rights issue and each state decides for itself or it’s going to be decided by the Supreme Court that it’s a violation of the 14th Amendment,” Long said. “One way or another, they’re going to have the final say in this because the U.S. Constitution trumps a state constitution.”
Indiana’s gay marriage battle was playing out as federal courts in Oklahoma and Utah overturned constitutional bans and New Mexico’s high court overturned that state’s marriage ban.
The state Senate’s decision caps a sharp turnabout in Indiana, where just three years ago the constitutional ban passed the General Assembly with overwhelming majorities. But national attitudes on gay marriage have shifted sharply, and opponents of the ban were able to build a strong coalition that lobbied Indiana lawmakers heavily – privately and in public.
Indiana’s gay marriage battle also opened a rift among Republicans in the solidly conservative state. Pro-business conservatives, including many who had worked closely with former Gov. Mitch Daniels, largely lined up against the marriage ban. While social conservatives, mostly aligned with Republican Gov. Mike Pence, fought hard to shepherd the ban to the 2014 ballot.
Some of the Republican Party’s strongest fundraisers, including former George W. Bush economic adviser Al Hubbard and former Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jim Kittle, opened their wallets for Freedom Indiana, the umbrella organization opposing the marriage ban.
“Six months ago, if you’d said lawmakers would refuse to put this issue on the ballot in 2014 by stripping out the deeply flawed second sentence, I’d have said there’s no way,” said Megan Robertson, Freedom Indiana campaign manager and a veteran Indiana Republican operative.
The author of a proposal that would have restored the civil unions ban and place the constitutional ban back on track for a November referendum bemoaned the fact that he could not find enough support among Republican senators.
The ban’s “second sentence is officially dead in the 2014 IGA. Not enough support to reinsert it on 2nd reading,” Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, wrote on Twitter. Long later chided Delph for discussing a private meeting of the Indiana Republicans.
When the constitutional ban came up for consideration Thursday, Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann – who presides over the Senate – asked lawmakers if they had any amendments. The Senate chamber was silent, as were hundreds of activists just outside the Senate who had been chanting and singing just minutes earlier.
Ellspermann then acknowledged she had heard no amendments to the measure, and declared it ready for a final vote later in the Senate. Thursday was the last day lawmakers could have altered the measure and put it back on track for a November vote.
Pence lobbied for a November vote on the ban in his State of the State address and at a rally of ban supporters, but later said he was removing himself from the legislative debate.
Maribeth Vaughn of the Daily Reporter staff and Tom LoBianco of The Associated Press contributed to this report.