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Senate gets resolution on marriage, civil unions

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The Senate Judiciary Committee spent most of its time this week discussing the definition of marriage in Indiana and whether a constitutional amendment should be sent to voters to make it tougher for courts and legislators to rewrite how they handle both gay marriage and civil unions.

Committee members heard about two hours of testimony Wednesday in the Senate chambers before passing Senate Joint Resolution 13 by a 6-4 vote along party lines. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

Authored by Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Indianapolis, SJR 13 would create a constitutional definition of marriage being between a man and woman. It also would say that "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals" wouldn't be recognized legally. A similar marriage amendment failed to pass the last legislative session and as a result never went before the voters.

The language in this Senate resolution mirrors what's proposed in House Joint Resolution 5, which was introduced by Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, and remains in the Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures.

At the recent committee meeting, lawmakers heard heated testimony from both sides and delved into a myriad of topics such as equal protection and discrimination, business competition, and religious practice as it applies to everyone in the state.

Yoder told his colleagues that this measure is more strictly focused on civil unions than it was in the past and is specifically aimed at stopping what some describe as "counterfeit marriages" between the same-sex couples. The constitutional amendment is needed now because of legal challenges that have materialized in other states, and Indiana should take the step that 30 other states have done, he said.

Supporters said it would have no effect on domestic-violence laws or domestic-partner benefits, as well as no influence on contractual arrangements or adoptions. This puts into the constitution what's already been in place in Indiana for more than two decades: the Marriage Defense Act, or Indiana Code 31-11-1-1. And by amending the constitution, it would stop any challenges that could be interpreted differently by the Indiana judiciary, or any action legislators could take in repealing or revising that state statute.

"Homosexuals can still marry ... they just have to marry someone of a different sex," said Terre Haute attorney James Bopp, who is involved in several high-profile anti-gay-rights cases including the California one involving Proposition 8. "We shouldn't wait for that fanciful case that's going on in California. We should take the step to protect (marriage) against our state courts from seizing control of this issue against the will of the people."

But J.T. Forbes, state government relations director for Cummins, said the business world disagrees about the possible impact and doesn't support the resolution.

"We embrace diverse perspectives ... but this sends the message that Indiana doesn't welcome people of all backgrounds, and it can be perceived as intolerant of diversity," he said, adding that 87 percent of companies ban sexual-orientation discrimination and 67 percent offer domestic-partner benefits in some fashion. "We worry that this amendment would force us to scrap those benefits and send the message that discrimination based on sexual orientation is OK."

More than a dozen people testified at the hearing, including American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Executive Director Gil Holmes in opposition, attorneys with varying viewpoints, a Kentucky lawmaker who'd been a part of that jurisdiction's adoption of a similar amendment, and priests and parents on both sides of the issue.

Voting for the bill: Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville; Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger; Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport; Sen.Travis Holdman, R-Markle; Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis; and Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford.

Sens. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; Tim Lanane, D-Anderson; and John Broden, D-South Bend voted against the measure. Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette didn't vote.

Explaining their votes, Randolph indicated he'd changed his vote based on the testimony he heard, and Lanane said he was specifically against it because of the civil-union impact and the economic impact this could have. Taylor said he felt this measure is discriminatory and ties the hands of future generations.

"Who am I to decide what makes everyone else happy?" Randolph said, noting that he supports a marriage between one man and woman. "I can see the underlying effects of what this could mean, and I can't interject my personal feelings and thoughts onto how you feel."

If SJR 13 passes the Senate and House this session, it would still need to be approved during the 2011 session before it could be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

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