By Ryanne Wise and Erika Brock
The minority leader in the Indiana House is drafting an amendment to strip the controversial second sentence out of a constitutional proposal to ban same sex marriage.
But Rep. Scott Pelath said he's not certain he'll call the language for a vote. Instead, the Michigan City Democrat said he's analyzing the best way to defeat the proposal.
The constitutional amendment - House Joint Resolution 3 - would, first, define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The second sentence would prohibit any legal relationship that is "identical or substantially similar" to marriage.
"My first approach is to extinguish the obvious stink bomb of the second sentence and if they are going to insist to move this forward, let's at least get that monstrous language out of there," Pelath said. "The second approach is letting HJR 3 die under its own lumbering brontosaurus-like weight."
Pelath said he'll talk to members of the Democratic caucus - who hold just 31 of the chamber's 100 seats - before deciding how to proceed.
An amendment to HJR 3 means the constitutional amendment process would likely restart. That could postpone a possible ratification by voters from this fall to 2016.
Republicans will likely be waiting for Pelath's decision as well. Rep. Casey Cox, R-Fort Wayne, voted for HJR 3 when it came before the House Elections Committee this week. But later, he said that he may vote against the proposal when it reaches the House floor next week.
Cox said he wants to "reconsider" the second sentence. He cited concerns raised by a lawyer with Indiana University, who said the provision threatens the school's ability to offer benefits to same-sex partners.
"I thought IU's council made some points that certainly need further discussion," Cox said. "The caucus really wanted this to come to the floor. I can understand that. If it remains intact, I certainly reserve the right to vote no."
The House will also consider House Bill 1153, which is meant to explain the legislative intent of the constitutional amendment. Supporters say the bill clarifies that the second sentence would not apply to same-sex benefits already being offered.
But Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, said the companion bill doesn't ease her concerns.
"If an amendment were to be brought up to remove the second sentence I will fully support this resolution. If the second sentence remains, I will not support the resolution," McNamara said in a prepared statement provided to the Evansville Courier & Press.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he's pleased HJR 3 will get a full debate and vote on the House floor. He expects the bill to pass and move over to the Senate, as soon as next week.
"If it comes here, it will go to the (Senate) Judiciary committee, where it has been repeatedly," Long said.
Those committee members are likely to pass the HJR 3 without amendment, which would send it to the full Senate for consideration. Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, is the committee chairman.
"I think Sen. Steele recognizes that this is an important subject and we would hope to have the opportunity for full debate on the Senate floor just as I think it's healthy to have that debate on the House floor," Long said.
If the bill passes both chambers, it moves to the ballot for possible ratification by voters in November.
Long declined to comment on HJR 3's second sentence.
"I'll reserve those comments for later, but obviously I said that I support an explanatory, clarifying piece of legislation, which House Bill 1153 was in my opinion," Long said. "I think it was important, given the discussion, that has arisen from the second clause, that it be clear what the legislature is trying not to do."
Erika Brock and Ryanne Wise are reporters for TheStatehousefile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.