(Indianapolis, Ind.) - Testimony heard by an Indiana House committee Monday became emotional at times as a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was debated.
House Joint Resolution 6 seeks to create an amendment to prevent gay marriage or legal statuses similar or identical to marriage such as civil unions. The legislation must pass two consecutive general assemblies before earning favor from Hoosier voters in a statewide referendum in either 2013 or 2014.
The resolution authored by Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) and co-authored by Rep. Dave Cheatham (D-North Vernon) passed the House Judiciary Committee on an 8-4 party line vote Monday. House District 68 Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville), who vice-chairs the committee, voted in favor of the measure.
"This is a foundational and fundamental issue," said Cheatham.
Rep. Turner said Indiana lags behind all its neighboring states which have similar amendments. However, opponents of the legislation argued it's not only unnecessary, but violates civil rights.
Indiana's constitution already defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but Cheatham and Turner each echoed concerns about activist judges disregarding the constitution.
Opponents attacked the legislation from multiple angles.
"There is a force in this state that is determined to undermine the rights of the LGBT community." Jessica Wilch, President of pro-gay Indiana Equality, told the committee. "It's tragic, if not a total violation of civil rights."
Don Sherfick, a board member of Indiana Equality, said the legislature should think of the long-term implications of passing the amendment.
Amendments can be more difficult to repeal than pass.
"This would put the General Assembly itself in a straightjacket," said Sherfick.
"It's like rubbing salt into the wound," said Dr. Cynthia Conley, an assistant professor at Ball State University and member of the National Association of Social Workers Indiana who with her lesbian partner is raising a daughter. They married in Canada.
"I have to explain to my daughter why Indiana lawmakers want to place intolerance at the top of their legislative agenda," Conley said.
Gay couples in Indiana are not entitled to sign onto health insurance plans with their partners. That restriction could become more difficult if the proposed amendment barring civil unions becomes law.
Patrick Roth, a gay Indianapolis resident who adopted a daughter with his husband, said gay couples in the state want benefits which heterosexual couples already enjoy.
"We are not recognized in Indiana," Roth said of the relationship with his husband. "We are legal strangers to one another. When we file taxes we have to lie to the state and say that we are single."
Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) voted against the legislation and questioned supporters' motives.
"It frankly troubles me we are discussing this. There are many economic issues we should be dealing with," he said.
The legislation now moves to the full Republican dominated House. If those lawmakers pass it, then the Senate would consider it next. The state Senate passed similar legislation in 2010 which died in the then-Democrat controlled House.