INDIANAPOLIS — Gay couples in Indiana might eventually be able to enter into civil unions, but not marriages, under changes the House pushed Monday that could effectively delay a constitutional ban on same sex-weddings.
Opponents of the marriage ban won a temporary victory with a bipartisan vote to remove a sentence from the proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred civil unions in addition to gay marriages. Indiana law currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but supporters are looking to strengthen that ban by placing it in the state constitution.
If the altered amendment clears the House and eventually the Senate, it could restart the clock on the legislative process. Under the amendment process, the same measure must be approved in two consecutive sessions and then by voters, so the proposed ban could be pushed back from making the ballot until 2016 instead of 2014.
However, much could change between now and the end of this session, which is scheduled to wrap up in mid-March.
Activists gathered outside the chamber cheered loudly Monday after the 52-43 vote to remove the sentence from House Joint Resolution 3.
Twenty-three Republicans joined 29 Democrats to strip out the second sentence. Outright opponents of HJR 3 joined with lawmakers who said their concerns lies only with the second sentence to alter the measure.
Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, said he still supports Indiana's current definition of marriage as he did when he voted in favor the ban in 2011. But a barrage of comments from people in his district, which is about halfway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, led him to change his stance on the civil unions language.
"During the past several months I started having many people approach me and ask me to not support the measure this time," he said. "They were Republicans, they were Democrats. They were Catholic, they were Protestants. They were pastors and elders in the churches. They were my neighbors."