An attempt to amend Indiana's constitution with a prohibition on same-sex marriage received a setback today, as the state's House of Representatives voted to change some of the language in the bill.
To change the state's constitution, an amendment must be passed by both houses of the legislature in two separate sessions, and the amendment's wording must be the same when each vote is taken. Then the measure can go before voters for ratification.
This evening, the House voted 52-43 to remove the amendment's second sentence, which explicitly banned civil unions and other marriage-like arrangements for same-sex couples, The Indianapolis Star reports. This makes the measure different from the one both chambers approved in 2011. If the Senate follows suit, or does not approve any version of the amendment, the legislation would have to be reintroduced and passed in two additional, sequential legislative sessions before it could appear on the ballot, forcing supporters to essentially start the proposal process over again. The proposal to change the language came from Rep. Randy Truitt, a Republican.
Indiana already bans same-sex marriage by statute, but bans written into the state constitution are less likely to be nullified by state courts, although they can be struck down by federal courts. The latter is what happened in the case of California's anti-marriage equality amendment, Proposition 8, and more recently in rulings involving Utah and Oklahoma, although these two are on hold while the decisions are appealed.
"Today's vote to remove some of the extremist language in the proposed constitutional ban on marriage in Indiana is a welcome step back from the brink," said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of the pro-equality group Freedom to Marry, in a press release. "This offers the possibility that Indiana's families will not be subjected to a harsh campaign and offensive ballot-measure that would add cruel and unconstitutional language to Indiana's state constitution." However, as the amendment would still deny marriage rights to same-sex couples, it remains "deeply flawed" and "merits defeat," Wolfson said.
The debate over the amendment has led Chris Smith, the gay son of one of the measure's backers, Rep. Milo Smith, to speak out. Read his story here.