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Does marriage amendment need to be amended?

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marriage_facts.jpgQuestions over how to fix the troublesome second sentence of Indiana’s increasingly controversial marriage amendment have sparked much speculation and led to one unexpected – and untested – solution.

Less than a week after the Indiana General Assembly began the 2014 session, the constitutional provision banning same-sex marriage was headed to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. As federal judges scrutinize similar bans in Utah and Ohio, the Indiana amendment appeared set to gain approval from both chambers before the end of January.

However, when legislators vote on the amendment, they could also be casting votes on an accompanying bill meant to explain the intent of the General Assembly. House Bill 1153, introduced by Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, attempts to skirt concerns with the amendment by listing what the constitutional

ban would not restrict.

The measure drew immediate and strong reaction from the opposite side of the aisle.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, described HB 1153 as a “catalogue of flaws in the amendment,” and questioned if the bill, should it become law, would have the effect the Republicans believe it will.

“They know the second sentence is fraught with all kinds of unintended consequences and they’re trying to explain them away without amending the proposed amendment,” Pierce said.

House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, maintained the bill answers the “valid questions” that have arisen from the proposed marriage amendment. Turner’s legislation, he said, addresses concerns over the potential impact on human rights ordinances while spelling out that domestic partner benefits, powers of attorney and other agreements people enter into will still be valid.

“I think it’s clear that regardless of what the Legislature does, even if it does nothing, there’s going to be a lawsuit filed here as there has been in 30-plus other states on these issues,” Bosma said. “So we felt it was quite appropriate to give the courts and voters, if it passes, and legislators some clarity on precisely what the language does and does not do.”

Making a tweak

The process for amending the Indiana Constitution requires that a proposal be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies, then ratified by the electorate.

Over the past 10 years, amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman have been filed in the Statehouse but were stalled in the Democrat-controlled House. The current proposed provision was first approved during the 2011 legislative session and must be green-lighted this session or the process to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage will have to start over.

Much of the focus on the amendment has been with the second sentence, which could be interpreted as banning heterosexual relationships. To fix this problem, the possibility has been raised of rewriting or dropping the sentence and still continuing with the ratification process.

Geoffrey Slaughter, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, is among those who believe an alteration would require a new beginning.
 

geoff slaughter Slaughter

He pointed to the legislative process where a bill that undergoes even a minor change has to be reapproved by both the House and Senate. That procedure seems to set a precedent for starting over whenever a proposed amendment to the state constitution is altered, he said.

Neither Indiana caselaw nor legislative history provide a clear answer. In 1965, lawmakers did not start the amendment process over when, during the second presentation, it dropped language in a proposed change to Article 10 of the Indiana Constitution. Five years later, the General Assembly corrected scrivener errors in an overhaul of Article 7 that substantially changed the state’s judiciary. The amendment was subsequently challenged on several grounds in the Indiana Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, but the judges demurred on ruling whether the revisions were substantial enough to cause a restart.

In 1994, when the Legislature set about amending Article 16 which, ironically, details the steps for amending the state constitution, the process started over because a phrase was removed from the end of a sentence.

Former Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton, R-Columbus, is considered the driving force behind getting that General Assembly to go back to the beginning. His insistence on following the rules was reinforced when, as a young state senator, he watched two Senate presidents get hauled away to jail.

Looking at the wording in the constitution, Garton asserted any change made to the same-sex marriage amendment would require the process start over. Specifically, the language of Article 16 says “the amendment” rather than “the revised amendment” or “the changed amendment,” which to Garton means no changes are allowed on second presentation.

“The constitution is not that difficult to read,” he said. “It’s rather plain language, ‘the amendment’ is ‘the amendment.’”

Moving forward

Although HB 1153 is viewed as alleviating the need to rework the amendment, it may not insulate the proposed provision in the courtroom.

Pierce raised the question of whether the courts would even consider the interpretation provided by the bill when faced with a challenge to the same-sex ban. The Indiana Constitution is not subservient to the state statutes, he said, which makes it likely that the judiciary will look at the language of the amendment and make its own interpretation of the second sentence.

However, Bosma said HB 1153 keeps the process moving forward and enables the General Assembly, and possibly the public, to make the decision about what constitutes marriage.

“I think it’s right for the Legislature to make this decision and not a judge and that’s why I, personally, support the amendment,” he said. “If I thought it was disastrous for Indiana, we wouldn’t be doing it.”

Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, disagreed, saying the amendment should not be put to popular vote. It limits individual rights that the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Bill of Rights to protect personal freedoms from harm.


henegar-jane-mug Henegar

Henegar said the Legislature should not try to be clever in fixing the amendment and instead should defeat it. The ACLU of Indiana is preparing if the constitutional provision does pass through the Statehouse.

“We’ll look at every option and try to refute (the amendment) in whatever form it may survive the Legislature,” Henegar said.

Shifting ground

Since the General Assembly approved this most recent version of the marriage amendment three years ago, public attitude toward the subject has shifted dramatically. Perceptions of same-sex couples have changed not only in the public square but also in the federal courts.

“What are we really doing this for,” asked Jon Laramore, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, “because the federal courts may trump the effort, at least in some respects.”


Jon Laramore Laramore

Unanswered is the question of whether states that ban same-sex marriage will have to recognize those marriages performed in states that do not prohibit that type of union. Indiana’s law against gay marriage and its potential constitutional ban would only be binding to state courts. The federal courts could apply federal law to rule that same-sex marriages performed in Iowa or Illinois are also valid in Indiana.

Even before Indiana’s amendment reaches the court, it may become a moot point. Voters will have final say on the provision if it appears on the 2014 ballot.

Garton’s experience with the same-sex marriage ban is telling. He voted for an amendment prohibiting marriage between individuals of the same gender but he was not upset when the measure failed to get through the House. The opinions from the opposition resonated with him, especially the arguments that characterized the ban as a civil rights issue.

He does not have a definite answer as to whether a ban should be enacted but his uncertainty reflects how opinions have turned around.

“I can’t say I’m comfortable with it,” Garton said of same-sex marriage. “The issue has changed, public attitude has changed. It’s a question if it should be in the Constitution.”•

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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