A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage will get a key hearing before an Indiana House committee next week. But a provision that critics say could have unintended consequences could be removed, a top lawmaker suggested today.
Proponents of the amendment have said that if any of the language changes, it would restart the lengthy process of amending the constitution. But House Speaker Patrick Bauer, who has consulted attorneys on the matter, said the section that specifically bans same-sex marriage could still advance even if another provision is removed.
“I think that might be the case, but we’ll see,” said Bauer, D-South Bend.
The proposed amendment has two sections. The first states that marriage in Indiana is solely the union of one man and one woman. The second says the state constitution or state law cannot be construed to provide the benefits of marriage to unmarried couples or groups.
Some opponents of the amendment say the second provision is vague and could be used to nullify domestic violence laws that apply to married and unmarried couples. They also fear it could eliminate domestic partner benefits offered by employers and contracts that unmarried senior couples sometimes have to retain inheritances and share legal, financial and health care decisions.
Terre Haute attorney James Bopp Jr. and other supporters of the amendment say the second provision means courts cannot force the government to provide same-sex benefits, but it does not prohibit the government, public employers or anyone else from voluntarily offering such benefits.
Constitutional bans against same-sex marriage have led to lawsuits in some states, and more than 20 have yet to determine how they apply to benefits . . .
House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said that changing the wording would restart the process and has repeatedly voiced concern that Democrats would alter the proposal’s language.
Bauer said that would occur only through the committee process and if those concerned about the second provision showed up for the hearing and presented a competent case.
“I’ve said before, the process will run its course,” he said.
Suffice it to say Rep. Bosma's only concern is his favorite wedge issue won't be on the ballot in 2008 so he can stoke it for all the gain he can get from gay bashing to regain control of the Indiana House.
As for Jim Bopp's contentions about SJR-7, let's put his feet to the fire this time. Let's take another look at his take on the second paragraph. Smith writes, "Terre Haute attorney James Bopp Jr. and other supporters of the amendment say the second provision means courts cannot force the government to provide same-sex benefits, but it does not prohibit the government, public employers or anyone else from voluntarily offering such benefits." The key words to focus on here is that "it does not prohibit the government, public employers or anyone else from voluntarily offering such benefit. What Bopp doesn't include in that statement is a legislative enactment requiring domestic partner benefits, civil unions, hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc. for unmarried couples, straight or gay.
Bopp understands fully that the language of SJR-7 would slam the door on any future legislative enactments which would benefit unmarried couples. That's the whole purpose behind the second paragraph. If a legislature wanted to provide for any of these benefits in the future, such a law could never be enforced because a court is prohibited from interpretating a statute as conferring a legal incident of marriage on any unmarried person or group. What the second paragraph really invites are legislative enactments to ban such benefits--exactly what was attempted in Kentucky this year based upon a similar constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. Don't be tricked by Bopp's slippery assurances. His agenda is to replace our civil laws with laws based upon his interpretation of fundamentalist Christian law. That is exactly what our founders sought to protect us from when they insisted upon a separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights. That is also why Indiana went even further by including these provisions in our own Indiana Bill of Rights:
All people shall be secured in the natural right to worship ALMIGHTY GOD, according to the dictates of their own consciences.
No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.
No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.
No religious test shall be required, as a qualification for any office of trust or profit.
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution.