Turner: House should vote on gay marriage ban this year

INDIANAPOLIS – An influential Republican says the Indiana House should vote this year on a constitutional same-sex marriage ban, but the chamber’s leaders are not yet saying how they’ll handle the issue.

Rep. Eric Turner of Cicero, the Republican who has repeatedly introduced the measure and served as its chief advocate in the House, said he is filing it again during this year’s four-month session and wants to see it get a vote.

“I think we should go ahead and do it this year,” he said.

His move comes as legislative leaders decide whether they should use this year’s session to take the next step in a process they started in 2011 – one that could culminate in a November 2014 statewide referendum.

Since its passage in the Senate is all but assured, how the measure will be handled in the House – where Republicans have a newly-minted supermajority, but also saw similar efforts defeated in four states in 2012 – is the key question.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Monday that Democrats want a “two-year moratorium” on social issues. That would re-start the clock on the same-sex marriage ban, delaying a statewide vote until at least 2018.

“People deserve a break from the political exploitation of their fears and emotions as we work to rebuild our economy,” Pelath said.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said social issues are not his focus, but that he is “not declaring a moratorium on anything.” He has not said how his chamber will handle the same-sex marriage issue.

The chairman of the committee where Turner’s measure is likely to be assigned said “there has been no decision made” on whether to tackle it this year or wait until 2014.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s move to take up two states’ same-sex marriage bans and said lawmakers might wait for its ruling.

“The lawyer in me understands that we like to hear what the Supreme Court says and gives their rulings on issues, which we have to abide by. So obviously that’s a pretty significant factor for us,” Steuerwald said.

He said he will decide how to proceed with “input from the entire (House Republican) caucus.”

“It would be a joint decision that I would make with the caucus, taking everybody’s input in mind. It would not simply be my decision,” Steuerwald said.

Amending Indiana’s constitution is a three-step process, and lawmakers took the first step when the House and Senate approved a ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions or any similar legal status in 2011.

The second step requires the House and Senate to wait for an election to take place, and then pass the exact same measure again in one of the next two years. For this step, whether the vote takes place in 2013 or 2014 makes no procedural difference.

The final step would be in voters’ hands, as the measure would be subject to a statewide referendum during the November 2014 general election.

Turner said the Supreme Court’s looming decision – expected to come around June – does little to change Indiana’s debate.

“Really, nothing would change,” Turner said. “I think it’s probably more appropriate just to go ahead and do it and allow the public to weigh in and give both proponents and opponents plenty of time to engage before it’s on the ballot.”

Public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage has rapidly shifted. More than 30 consecutive states had approved measures limiting marriage rights to one man and one woman, but November’s election saw four – Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington – reject such efforts.

Rep. Ed Clere of New Albany, the only Republican who opposed the same-sex marriage ban when the House voted for the first time on it in 2011, said the court’s decision is one reason lawmakers should wait.

Another, he said, is the opposition of businesses such as Columbus, Ind.-based engine maker Cummins, Inc. that say such a ban would hurt their efforts to recruit top talent.

Clere said some of his colleagues are increasingly wary of moving forward with it.

“That’s been going on for two years, since the first vote, and it’s picked up a lot recently. I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks,” he said. “I think there are other legislators besides me who have additional concerns.”