INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate voted Monday to amend the state constitution by banning gay marriage, but it will be 2016 at the earliest before the measure appears on a statewide ballot because of a late change that limits the scope of the ban.
By voting 32-17 in favor of the diluted measure, senators finished the Legislature's work on an effort to add the state's current gay marriage to the Indiana Constitution. But because an original plan approved in 2011 prohibited civil unions as well, lawmakers restarted on the process by voting last month to remove the civil union language from the proposed amendment.
As a result, a referendum that might that might have been held in November now much wait at least two more years.
The Senate's vote followed roughly an hour of debate in public and close to three hours of debate in private among the Senate's Republicans. A conservative Republican senator launched a last-minute effort to get the civil unions ban back in the measure and have it placed on the November ballot, but failed to sway enough Republicans during the three-hour private meeting.
Despite the fact that a public vote would not happen until at least 2016, supporters of the ban said they would have to settle for "half a loaf."
"I can make a strong case that without the second sentence (ban on civil unions), this bill, this resolution is not strong enough in my opinion," said Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis. "But at the end of the day, as we all do in this building, we have to learn to take half a loaf, rather than no loaf at all."
Other supporters said they still were concerned a judge could step in and overturn Indiana's existing gay marriage ban, which is written in law, but not the constitution. "I trust the people of Indiana more than I trust one individual," said Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, shortly before voting in favor of the watered-down ban.
Opponents of the ban equated this year's marriage fight with civil rights struggles and urged lawmakers not to put the issue on track for the constitution at all, this year or in 2016. Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, noted that Indiana used to ban interracial marriage
"Do you believe there was a time in this state where me and my wife couldn't be married?" said Taylor, who is black and is married to a white woman.
The Senate's maneuvers on the issue allowed Republican senators to vote on the issue of marriage without having to take a politically perilous stance on the "second sentence" civil union ban.
Monday's vote completes a battle that saw social conservatives lose ground in one of the nation's most conservative states. Hours before the Senate voted, conservatives were already blaming Republican legislative leaders for keeping the marriage ban from a November vote. After more than a decade of marriage battles in other states, Indiana became the national focus of groups looking to protect marriage from legal challenges.
Opponents of the ban, led by the umbrella group Freedom Indiana, noted that changing attitudes among Indiana's state lawmakers took extensive work and time.
"We were underdogs in this fight from the outset, but our success reflects the strength of the incredible coalition we were able to build in just six months," Freedom Indiana Campaign Manager Megan Robertson said in a statement. "Every Hoosier who made a phone call, wrote a letter, sent an email, showed up at the Statehouse or helped oppose (the ban)in another way should be proud today."
The marriage ban passed this year would now have to be approved by lawmakers during their next biennial session, 2015-16, in its current form in order to appear on the 2016 ballot.