After hours and hours of testimony, legislative maneuvering and intense lobbying, Monday is expected to be the final day of debate about the now-weakened constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in Indiana — at least for this legislative session.
The Indiana Senate is scheduled to vote on House Joint Resolution 3, without the portion that would have banned civil unions, during its session beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Opponents, led by the Freedom Indiana coalition, and supporters, led by a group of conservative activist organizations, likely will fill the balcony and hallway outside the Senate chambers, as they have several times during the amendment’s somewhat surprising path this session.
But unless there are many last-minute changes of heart, the outcome appears to be clear: The revised HJR-3 will pass the Senate with a majority of Republicans supporting it and nearly all Democrats opposing it. The Senate has 37 Republicans — only two of whom have publicly said they oppose HJR-3 — and 13 Democrats.
“I think it will pass on Monday,” Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said after the Senate did not move to restore the original language of the amendment that also would have banned civil unions. “But we haven’t done any head counts. We had a good discussion in caucus and let everyone have their say (Thursday). We’ll have another discussion on Monday.”
The Senate’s decision not to try to restore HJR-3’s second sentence came after it was clear there was not enough support for the move during the Republicans’ private caucus.
If the Senate approves the revised amendment already passed by the House, the three-step process of amending Indiana’s constitution restarts.
Amendments must be approved, in the same form, by two separately elected legislatures before going to voters. That means November 2016 is the earliest the measure could be on the ballot.
Supporters, including Gov. Mike Pence, had wanted the amendment to be passed in the same form in which it passed in 2011 so the public could vote on it this November.
After the Senate’s expected approval Monday, can a legal case be made that the first sentence of the amendment has passed twice?
Theoretically, Long said, one could say it has passed twice. But he said this premise has never been tested in the courts, and legal opinions from the Legislative Services Agency, a legal advisory body to the legislature, and others suggest they would be “playing with dynamite” to try to put the amendment on the ballot this November.
“Why would we send something to the voters that’s constitutionally questionable?” Long said. “It’s the right thing to do to send it to another vote before the General Assembly. If it passes again, it will be put before the voters in 2016.”
Although Monday’s vote will end the debate that has dominated this year’s session, the issue is a long way from being settled here and nationally. Some, including Long, think that ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the question, ruling either that states have the right to decide or that such bans violate the 14th Amendment.
In the meantime, Rick Sutton, board president of Freedom Indiana, said the coalition, which garnered the support of major businesses, universities, clergy, mayors and others, will press on.
“I don’t think we can believe the other side will ever give up,” he said.
“They are very passionate about what they want to get done. We will match effort for effort, strategy for strategy.
“The state and national momentum is not with the other side. That’s something you can’t buy or manufacture.”
Call Star reporter Barb Berggoetz at (317) 444-6294. Follow her on Twitter: @barbberg