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Gay-marriage ban considered by Indiana lawmakers

By Abdul-Hakim Shabazz

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Indiana lawmakers on Monday heard arguments on a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, bucking a U.S. trend in the past two years of states, voters and courts allowing gays to marry.

Executives from Indiana businesses, including the Indianapolis-based drug company Eli Lilly and Co. and Indiana University, warned the amendment would hurt recruitment.

"Top talent will go elsewhere," Stephen Fry, senior vice president of human resources and diversity at Eli Lilly, told a state House judiciary committee. "Indiana doesn't have mountains and oceans, so all it has is a friendly and welcoming environment. This hurts not just recruitment but retention - some of our best employees are edgy about staying."

Others disputed these arguments.

"The economic arguments against it are a bogeyman," said Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana. "North Carolina has a similar law and it is thriving."

The committee hearing on the amendment ended without a vote on whether to send it to the full House. It was not known when the committee would vote. Three Republican members said they were undecided.

"I'm giving committee members time to reflect on all the testimony and then I'll make a decision on when we'll convene," said Greg Steuerwald, a Republican, committee chairman.

Indiana's General Assembly approved the proposed amendment in 2011 and must approve it a second time, in the current session, to put the question to voters in November.

MARRIAGE IS ONE MAN, ONE WOMAN -PROPOSAL

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. Little more than a decade ago, none of the 50 U.S. states recognized same-sex marriage.

Indiana currently bans gay marriage by statute. It is among 33 U.S. states that ban same-sex marriage through state constitutional amendment, statute, or both.

In many states, gay-marriage opponents have sought constitutional amendments to ban such unions on grounds they are harder to overturn than legal statutes.

The Indiana proposal would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman and add that "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized."

Critics have said such a definition of marriage could lead to the repeal of anti-discrimination laws and prohibit private companies from providing domestic partner benefits. Lawmakers supporting the amendment have said a companion bill would address those concerns.

The U.S. high court last year issued two high-profile decisions on gay marriage. One ruling struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. The other paved the way for gay marriage to resume in California.

Same-sex marriage became legal in eight states last year. Same-sex couples also could marry for a brief period in Utah after a federal judge overturned the heavily-Mormon state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week halted same-sex marriages in Utah pending an appeal by Utah officials. [ID:nL2N0KG12M]

(Editing by David Bailey, Mary Wisniewski, Dan Grebler and Andrew Hay)

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