By Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Indiana Senate on Monday approved a proposed amendment to the state's constitution that would prohibit same-sex marriage but more steps are required before it goes to voters in 2016.
The Indiana Senate approved the proposed ban by a vote of 32-17, following approval in the House of Representatives last month. But under state law, both chambers must approve the measure again, with the same language, in the next legislative session in 2015 or 2016 in order for the proposal to go before voters in 2016.
Indiana bans gay marriage by statute and supporters have said a constitutional amendment would provide additional protection from court challenges.
A version of the amendment had passed the Republican-dominated Indiana legislature in 2011, but the Indiana House in January softened it by removing language that would have banned gay civil unions. The Senate upheld the change made by the House on Thursday.
The change in the language sets back the clock on the legislation, which supporters had hoped to get before voters this year.
Supporters had argued the ban on civil unions was needed to protect traditional marriage. However, opponents argued the language was ambiguous, would hurt attracting new talent to the state and could prohibit local governments from offering domestic partnerships benefits.
The removal of the ban on civil unions was seen as a victory by supporters of gay rights.
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.
Other states ban gay marriage by state statute, constitutional amendment, or both.
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) federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Federal judges have cited the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling in finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional in Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma. The Utah and Oklahoma decisions are under appeal, and the Virginia ruling has been stayed pending an appeal.
(Reporting by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Lisa Shumaker)