Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

January 16, 2014

KEVIN LEININGER: Compromise is possible on same-sex marriage bill

That's if anyone really wants one.

Of all the issues to be consi-dered by the General Assembly, none has generated more attention or controversy than House Joint Resolution 3 which, if passed then ratified by voters, would add this sentence to the state constitution: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.”

But the bill also includes a second provision that has gone almost unnoticed — one that complicates an already difficult issue but, ironically, could provide at least a temporary compromise that makes sense in terms of policy and politics alike.

“No one knows [what the second sentence] means. It’s very ambiguous and poorly written,” Freedom Indiana spokeswoman Jennifer Wagner said of the provision stating that, if HJR-3 passes, “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

The intent is open to interpretation, of course, but Wagner and Freedom Indiana, which has mobilized opposition to the bill among universities, mayors, corporations and others, say “no one has been able to clearly define what affects [it] would have on existing marriages, domestic partner benefits, human-rights ordinances, legal contracts and benefits for unmarried couples.”

Now, I have no doubt the overwhelming majority of HJR-3 opponents are motivated by their support of same-sex marriage — an issue that, as I have written before, pits my libertarian instincts against my understanding of Scripture. But even staunch gay-marriage opponents should be concerned the second clause unnecessarily injects language that is not only vague but overly broad. The state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage — whatever that definition is — but far less standing as to whether same-sex couples enter into contractual relationships or are covered by businesses’ benefits programs.

“Some people think we should amend out that second clause,” said state Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who called the issue “the toughest I’ve had to deal with in 17 years.” Although Long pledged recently on my “Fort Report” program the Legislature would not avoid a vote on HJR-3 this session, he added that “what the bill looks like is the issue. There are a lot of unknowns.”

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