INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage will take a slightly different course through the Indiana Senate than expected: Senate President Pro Tem David Long says it will be vetted by the committee that includes the chamber's top Republicans and Democrats.
Long said last week that the Senate Judiciary Committee would evaluate the measure, but then announced on Thursday that it will be vetted by the Senate Rules Committee instead. Any effort to alter the proposed ban, though, would have to play out before the full Senate, he said.
"I'd like to see a clean bill come to the floor of the Senate," said Long, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee. "I will say that once it comes to the floor, any and all amendments are going to be considered and available. There will be no attempt to block anything. There will be a full and robust discussion."
Long hinted at some apprehension with the so-called "second sentence" in the proposed amendment that would have prevented any future approval of civil unions. House lawmakers removed that from the proposal earlier this week.
The second part of the measure has quickly become a sticking point for many lawmakers who otherwise support placing the state's existing gay marriage ban in the state constitution. But simply stripping that section from the ban would effectively restart the clock on the state's lengthy constitutional amendment process, pushing a public referendum on the issue back to at least 2016.
Supporters of the proposed ban — House Joint Resolution 3 — cried foul this week when close to two dozen Republicans joined with 29 House Democrats to strip the civil union ban.
One of the potentially strongest voices in the debate, Republican Gov. Mike Pence, has been indecisive.
During his State of the State address earlier this month, Pence called for lawmakers to settle the marriage debate in 2014. And last week, he rallied supporters of the proposed ban at an Indianapolis hotel.
However, he has been quiet regarding the prospect of the marriage debate stretching out until 2016 because of the change approved by House lawmakers.
Long, who meets routinely with the governor and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, throughout the legislative session, said Pence has taken a hands-off approach with lawmakers in the debate. He noted that the governor does not have a formal say in the constitutional amendment process.
"He is stepping back and respecting the process," Long said. "He's got other fish to fry, too — as we all do — and I think he's focusing on that right now."
Freedom Indiana, the umbrella group opposing the proposed ban, blasted Bosma for moving the measure to a more conservative committee after it ran into trouble earlier in the session. But the group withheld judgment Thursday on Long's announcement of a pre-emptive committee swap.
"It's good this happened before we went through four hours of testimony and didn't have to have a committee switch at that point," said Megan Robertson, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana. "Hopefully we don't have a committee switch at any point."
The Senate Rules Committee is expected to have a hearing on the measure the week of Feb. 10.