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February 3, 2013

Ballot question may slow down same-sex marriage ban amendment

State would have no authority to remove question from ballot, short of court order, officials say

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the issues slowing down the proposed same-sex marriage ban amendment in the Indiana Legislature is the question of how to remove it from the 2014 ballot if the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer that such bans are unconstitutional.

According to elections officials with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, the state would have no authority to remove the question from the ballot, short of a court order.

It’s just one of the legal entanglements causing some key legislative leaders to push for a delay on a vote by the General Assembly to put the constitutional amendment up to voters in the 2014 election.

“What a waste of money and time and effort if the Supreme Court rules one way and we’re sticking something on the ballot that says the other,” said Republican state Sen. Brent Steele, the influential chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the measure may end up.

Steele said “cooler heads” in the legislature are pushing for a delay on what’s become a hot-button issue.

They want to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on two cases involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in July, after the General Assembly ends its session in April.

On Thursday, both Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and Republican Senate President David Long said they’ll decide next week how to proceed.

Long said he’s considering the legal issues involved if the General Assembly votes to put the amendment on the November 2014 ballot. He said the unpredictability of the high court “gives people pause.”

Bosma said he personally thinks its “inadvisable” to move forward until the Supreme Court weighs in, but added that he won’t make that decision by himself.

Indiana already has a law banning same-sex marriage. But proponents of the amendment, which bans same-sex civil unions as well as same-sex marriage, want it locked into the state’s constitution.

Amending the constitution is a three-step process in Indiana. The General Assembly took the first step in 2011 when it voted overwhelmingly to place into the state constitution a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The legislature has to vote again on the exact same language, either this session or next year, for the third step to occur: Putting the question on the November 2014 ballot for a public vote.

If the legislature votes for the amendment now and the U.S. Supreme Court rules in July that such bans are unconstitutional, Indiana would still be obligated to put the question on the November 2014 ballot.

Valerie Kroeger, a spokeswoman with the Indiana Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, said it would take an outside party filing a lawsuit to get a court order to remove the question from the ballot.

An increasing number of Republican legislators who voted for the amendment in 2011 are coming out either in direct opposition to the amendment, or calling for a delay on it until after the Supreme Court weighs in.

Proponents of the amendment, including the Indiana Family Institute, are pushing Indiana lawmakers to vote on the amendment  this session. They argue that such a vote would send a strong message to the U.S. Supreme Court and could impact the court’s decision.

Opponents of the amendment believe they’d benefit from a one-year delay, given the shift in public opinion on the issue. A delay would give them more time to convince Indiana lawmakers that public support for a constitutional ban is waning.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI, the Tribune-Star’s parent company. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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