INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House of Representatives approved a proposal Tuesday that would place the state’s gay marriage ban in the state constitution, while leaving the door open to eventual approval of civil unions.
The proposed ban, which cleared the chamber on a 57-40 vote, now heads to the Indiana Senate, where members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are set to take up the issue.
Legislators that represent Hancock County were split on the issue, and what happens to the ban next in the Senate is up in the air.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, voted in favor of the measure Tuesday alongside 56 other Republicans including Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield. But Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, was among the 11 Republicans and all 29 Democrats who voted against the measure.
The vote followed weeks of uncertainty for a measure that swept through the General Assembly with ease just three years ago.
Bosma, who represents the northwestern corner of Hancock County, worked hard to shepherd the ban through the start of the session. 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 earliest 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 counseled 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.
“What will happen, I don’t know,” Cherry said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not a betting man here; I don’t know what will happen for sure. But I’d assume the Senate will not put the language back in.”
Both Cherry and Bosma voted against the alteration Monday that eliminated the second sentence from the proposal. Both have said repeatedly that they believe their constituents want to vote on the issue for themselves this fall, and removing the sentence pushes back the approval process.
But Eberhart, who represents part of Sugar Creek Township, stands against the gay marriage ban entirely. While he could not be reached for comment Tuesday, Eberhart told the Daily Reporter last week that the state constitution should not have restrictions against certain groups of people, and the Legislature should not be cracking down on personal freedoms.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, will likely be among those considering the ban next in the Senate. Crider does not serve on the Senate judiciary committee that will be considering the House version of the proposal, and he was hesitant late last week to say whether he would vote for or against the measure until he saw the final version before him.
Crider said he is open to hearing from constituents on the issue. He can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 382-9467.
Staff writer Maribeth Vaughn contributed to this report.