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Indiana vote on constitutional ban on gay marriage faces hurdle

Two bride figurines are seen during a rally in response to the California Supreme Court's ruling regarding Proposition 8 in Hollywood, Calif
Two bride figurines are seen during a rally in response to the California Supreme Court's ruling regarding Proposition 8 in Hollywood, Calif

By Abdul-Hakim Shabazz

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Indiana House on Tuesday approved a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, bucking a national trend where legislatures in other states have been making same-sex marriages legal.

State representatives voted 57-40 to advance the proposed amendment, which removed language that would have also banned civil unions.

The proposed amendment has been on lawmakers plates in the majority-Republican state legislature since 2004. Lawmakers approved the amendment in 2011 and must approve it in the same form in this session to put it to a popular vote in 2014.

By removing previous language that banned civil unions, the amendment has undergone a change that makes it ineligible for the ballot in the state's election in November.

Indiana representatives cut a sentence that said: "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."

The proposal next goes to the state Senate, which could approve it as presented or restore the original language, which, if the House concurred, could allow the constitutional amendment to be put to voters this year.

"We are pleased the process continues and look forward to working with the Senate to restore the people's right to resolve this issue this year," said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, which supports the amendment.

Megan Robertson, campaign manager for amendment opponents Freedom Indiana, said removal of the sentence was encouraging.

"This issue has no place on the ballot in any year, but it certainly should not go before voters in its original form this year," Robertson said.

A decade ago, no states allowed same-sex couples to marry. Since then, same-sex marriage has been made legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia - including eight states in 2013.

Thirty-three states ban gay marriage by state statute, constitutional amendment, or both. Indiana bans gay marriage by statute and supporters have said a constitutional amendment would provide additional protection from court challenges.

The action in Indiana follows two high profile rulings on gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The court paved the way for gay marriage to resume in California and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Federal judges cited the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling in finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in Utah and Oklahoma. Those decisions are under appeal.

(Reporting by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz; Writing by David Bailey; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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