Scrap over old Indiana gay marriage ban derails popular bill

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A potential fight over whether to repeal Indiana’s obsolete ban on same-sex marriages has sidetracked a widely supported proposal to raise the state’s minimum age for getting married.

The dustup happened when the bill making 18 the minimum age for most marriages wasn’t taken up in the Republican-dominated House on Thursday’s deadline for it to be considered for amendments. House Speaker Brian Bosma blamed the action on a “political” amendment filed by a Democratic legislator that aimed to abolish a state law adopted in 1997 that declared, “Only a female may marry a male. Only a male may marry a female.”

Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington defended his proposal to strike the law that has remained despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages nationwide.

“I did not think it was unreasonable to remove what is now null-and-void unconstitutional language from the code,” Pierce said. “I didn’t think it would be that controversial because this issue has been settled now. Apparently to the Republican caucus it is controversial.”

Bosma told reporters that the proposal “wasn’t just to eliminate obsolete language. This was to have a big knockdown, drag-out discussion about it on the floor. That just isn’t productive.”

Current Indiana law allows those as young as 15 to marry if they have parental consent. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Karen Engleman of Georgetown would make 18 the general minimum age for marriage, with an exception for a 17-year-old if his or her spouse isn’t more than four years older and a juvenile court judge gives permission.

The state health department says 95 people between the ages of 15 and 17 got married in 2018.

While Bosma said he didn’t have clear assurances from Democrats that the amendment wouldn’t be called for a vote, Pierce said he told both Bosma and the bill’s Republican sponsor that he wouldn’t do so because many Democrats supported toughening the marriage age law as a way to fight possible child trafficking.

A House committee voted 9-1 in favor of the bill on Monday after hearing from women who testified they were 15 or 16 when their parents forced them to marry men who had raped or molested them and then faced more abuse before being able to escape the relationship.

Bosma said he hoped to revive the proposal later in the legislative session that ends in mid-March and “avoid the heated discussion on the issue.”

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