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Ind. House panel delays vote on gay marriage ban

January 14, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An effort to write a gay marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution hit a road bump Monday as a House chairman delayed a key vote on an issue that sailed through the General Assembly three years earlier.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee were scheduled to vote on the proposed ban and a companion measure, but Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, delayed the vote after nearly four hours of testimony on the issue.

"We ran out of time for one, and the speaker wanted to start session on time. Plus, I had heard from a number of committee members they wanted time to reflect on the testimony," Steuerwald said.

The panel met in the House chambers from 10 a.m. until 1:30, just before House lawmakers were preparing for their daily session in the same space.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the move hinted at possible trouble for a measure that won broad bipartisan support but little attention in 2011 amid a five-week walkout by House Democrats and skirmishes over labor and education measures.

The high-profile battle has caused some lawmakers to say they will change their votes and oppose the ban and has spurred some House committee members to reconsider their positions. Members of the panel have become the targets of high-pressure lobbying from both sides of the issue.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said it was Steuerwald's choice to delay the vote. He said that members of the Republican caucus also have been asking about a companion measure filed with the amendment, designed to clarify what the amendment would do.

"People want to be sure they're doing what's best for Hoosiers, many want to be sure Hoosiers have an opportunity to vote on it. Some want to know more details ... some are still exploring other opportunities. I don't see any change in the course at this point from where we've been the last couple years," he said.

Indiana already bans gay marriage in state law, but supporters hope that adding it to the constitution would protect it from legal challenges that have proven successful in other states. The second sentence of the measure also bans legal definitions substantially similar to marriage, but protesters and legislative leaders are undecided whether it would ban civil unions and employer benefits.

Members of Freedom Indiana, a coalition opposing the amendment, said the ban would harm the ability of employers to attract top talent to Indiana. Executives for Columbus engine-maker Cummins and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly told stories of their problems in recruiting talent from around the world.

Activists tailored their testimony to a small audience to the 13 members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Jeremy Wentzel, student body president at Wabash College, talked of his dedication to conservative principles of limited government and low taxation, while also being gay. Wentzel, a Brown County native, said lawmakers' consideration of the amendment is making it harder for him to stay in Indiana once he graduates.

"I can be a young gay conservative anywhere," Wentzel said. "But when it comes to being a young gay conservative and raising a family, that just means I can't be a Hoosier now."

A few hundred opponents packed the House chamber and halls outside the House Monday as the committee heard hours of testimony. Opponents, who wore red to signal their opposition, cheered as opponents testified. The packed hallways recalled the protests of union members during the 2011 and 2012 sessions, but marriage protesters were much quieter.

A diverse group testified in favor of the amendment, although many arguments centered on the religious definition of marriage. Reen Gutgsell, a Jasper resident, said she came out as a lesbian many years ago but believes that marriage should be limited to being between one man and one woman.

"If marriage is looked on as a right, then let us remember it is a right given by God, under God's laws and God must always be at the center of that marriage," said Gutgsell, who is Catholic.

If the measure passes the House Judiciary Committee it would head to the 100-member House for consideration next. Altering the state constitution requires votes in two consecutive two-year sessions of the General Assembly and the support of voters.

 

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