Lawmakers ready to deal with same-sex marriage, education battle

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INDIANAPOLIS – State lawmakers are gearing up for next year’s legislative session, with the issue of same-sex marriage and education policy front and center on Organization Day.

Tuesday, one leading Democrat called on House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, to kill the marriage amendment altogether, but Bosma said that wasn’t likely to happen. Bosma addressed the issue in his traditional Organization Day remarks to fellow lawmakers.

“My charge to you as we debate a very emotional and personal issue is that we do so with recognition of the dignity of every Hoosier, in here and elsewhere,” said Bosma.

Opponents of the constitutional same-sex marriage ban also gathered Tuesday at the statehouse – working their phones and their feet to try and meet with lawmakers and make their feelings known.

“(We are) delivering letters and postcards and trying to schedule one-on-one constituent meetings,” said Peter Hanscom, deputy campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the organization working to defeat the amendment known as HJR6.

Philip Cooper told Fox 59 he went to the Statehouse on behalf of his daughter.

“What I want for my daughter is no more and no less than what I want for everybody else,” said Cooper. “When I held that little girl in my arms, I didn’t know I’d be in this battle, and what father wouldn’t be in this battle supporting the one they love.”

“I don’t think they should be voting on my freedoms,” said Jamie Jorgenson, who said he has been in a relationship with his partner for some 18 years.

“We don’t need this in Indiana,” said Cooper.

Others, like Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute, say voters should have the final say.

“Our hope and our belief is that the legislature let the people decide what marriage is,” said Smith. “We think it’s one man and one woman. We think that’s part of the Hoosier fabric, but let’s let the people decide.”

The resolution has already passed the General Assembly once. If it passes again next year, the marriage amendment would go to voters next November. But what about the wording?

Currently, the resolution reads: “Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

Tuesday, Bosma said it was possible lawmakers could drop that second sentence and still put the measure on next year’s ballot, a move that Bosma said had some legal precedent. Still, others disagree, saying the same wording has to be passed by two separately elected legislatures.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, called on Bosma to kill the amendment altogether Tuesday before lawmakers convened for Organization Day.

“It has to stop and it has to stop today,” said Pelath. “For that reason, I’m going to call on speaker Bosma to announce that he is not even going to assign the resolution to a committee, and take it off the table immediately.”

Bosma said it was unconventional for the minority leader to hold a press conference on Organization Day, and said he thought the resolution should be voted on in the legislature.

“I think there should be a floor vote,” said Bosma. “Am I going to dictate that there’s a floor vote? No. It’s going to be assigned to committee. If it comes out of committee, it’ll be dealt with just like every other bill that comes before us this year.”

Legislators also discussed the ongoing feud between Gov. Mike Pence and state superintendent Glenda Ritz.

Bosma told house lawmakers he’s been looking closely at the state constitution in response to the battle over who controls state education policy. Democrats say they’re concerned legislators may try to strip more power from the superintendent.

“They’re creating this political soap opera so they can say ‘look how political this is’ so they can use that as a reason to strip her of her powers and maybe even one day eliminate the office all together,” said Pelath.

“If we need to resolve some of these situations, we will,” said Bosma. “It’s not my intention to take any action that makes it look like power’s being taken away from the superintendent of public instruction.”

Next year’s legislative session is scheduled to start Jan. 6.

Lawmakers also took time Tuesday to honor Phyllis Pond, the former state representative who died earlier this year.

Pond’s family was in the House chamber Tuesday as lawmakers paid tribute to their former colleague.

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