Gays and lesbians have lost the first round against an Indiana state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but many plan to intensify their fight against the proposal's becoming law. "This marks the beginning of an enormous struggle that, unfortunately, is going to be very divisive and is going to turn attention away from issues that are more pressing in the state of Indiana, and that is economic development," said Jeff Miner, pastor of an Indianapolis church founded by gays and lesbians.
The Indiana house finalized a first step toward a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, approving the proposal with bipartisan support on Tuesday.
Proponents hailed the 76-23 vote as a move toward shielding the sanctity of traditional marriage from "activist judges," while opponents denounced it as targeting gays and lesbians for discrimination. "The basic unit of our society is the family, and the cornerstone of the family is marriage, and marriage is the union of one man and one woman," said Republican representative Eric Turner. "A strong consensus has emerged in our country and our state that marriage must be strengthened."
All 52 Republicans joined 24 Democrats in voting for the proposal, while all 23 who voted against it, including Rep. Craig Fry of Mishawaka, were Democrats. "I'm offended we would pick on a certain group in our society who are not bothering me, who are not bothering you, who are not bothering anybody," Fry said. "I believe it is a tragedy, and I am embarrassed for this chamber."
The same proposal passed the Republican-controlled senate 42-8 earlier this session.
However, amending the constitution requires a resolution to pass consecutive, separately elected general assemblies and then be approved in a statewide vote. That means if the proposal passes again in 2007 or 2008, it could be on the November ballot in 2008.
Indiana already has a law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as do at least 42 other states. Seventeen states have constitutional language defining marriage.
A similar resolution passed the Republican-controlled senate with bipartisan support last year, but Democrats who controlled the house then refused GOP attempts to advance or even debate it. Democrats controlled the chamber 51-49 then, and all 49 Republicans had pledged to support the amendment.
Republicans now have a 52-48 majority in the house, and house speaker Brian Bosma had pledged efforts to pass it this session. Bosma commended Tuesday's debate as open and calm.
The proposed amendment would define marriage as "the union of one man and one woman." It also says state law "may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
About a dozen states approved amendments to their state constitutions last year banning same-sex marriage, and more are considering them.
The movement stems in part from a national debate that has been ongoing since 2003, when the highest court in Massachusetts decided that denying gay couples the right to wed was unconstitutional. Miner said opponents of the amendment plan an "economic boycott" to discourage college graduates in Indiana and elsewhere from accepting jobs in the state as well as warning companies against intolerance. (AP)