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Indiana House Changes HJR-3 To Restart Ratification Process

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Photo: Emily Penguin (flickr)

The House of Representatives chambers sit empty in the Indiana Statehouse.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers today voted to remove a portion of HJR-3, the proposed constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. If the amendment bill is approved by the full House and the Senate, the change would restart the entire approval process.

Twenty-three Republicans joined 29 Democrats to approve the amendment offered by Rep. Randy Truitt, R-West Lafayette, removing HJR-3’s second sentence, a portion that banned legal statuses “substantially similar” to marriage. Some have expressed concerns the second sentence would prohibit the ability to offer domestic partnership benefits.

A companion bill was filed this session seeking to clarify that would not be the case.

But Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, says while he supports HJR-3’s ban on same sex marriage, the companion bill doesn’t make anything clearer.

“If we cannot understand in this body exactly what that second sentence means, how can we expect millions of Hoosiers to understand what it means when they go to the polls in November?” he says.

Truitt’s amendment also pushed back ratification of the amendment, requiring the General Assembly to approve it both this year and in either 2015 or 2016 in order to place it on the ballot in November of 2016.

HJR-3 is now eligible for passage by the House. If approved, it would head to the Senate,where lawmakers there could undo the House’s change.

Rep. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, disagreed with the amendment and says his constituents want to weigh in this year.

“Let them make the decision,” he says. “Let’s get this thing moving. Let’s move it along as it is and let’s get the voters the opportunity to vote.”

Despite the change supporters and opponents of the measure aren’t changing their arguments.

Indiana Family Institute President Curt Smith says, without the second sentence, HJR-3 is more vulnerable to a legal challenge, but his organization will still back the resolution.

“It would be worth supporting but of course the whole process would start over,” he says. “It would be less effective in bolstering marriage but it would still be an important statement.”

John Cardwell heads a coalition of senior and disabled-care advocacy organizations who say they’re making the defeat of HJR-3 a priority. He says removing the second sentence does not make the resolution less objectionable.

“I think we’re unified in saying no. It’s still just a basic piece of discrimination,” he says.

Freedom Indiana campaign manager Megan Robertson, who leads a coalition of businesses, universities, governmental, community and religious leaders opposed to HJR-3, says her organization is grateful the House removed the second sentence.

Still, she says her group remains committed to keeping the amendment off the ballot in November.

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