Fact Check: Mike Pence Did NOT Sign A Bill When He Was Governor of Indiana To Jail Same-Sex Marriage Applicants

Fact Check

  • by: Arthur Brice
Fact Check: Mike Pence Did NOT Sign A Bill When He Was Governor of Indiana To Jail Same-Sex Marriage Applicants No bill to OK

Did Mike Pence sign a bill when he was governor of Indiana to send same-sex marriage applicants to jail? No, that's not true: Pence, while a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, could not have signed any such bill because the legislation never existed.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) on Instagram. It opened:

Mike Pence signed a bill to jail same-sex couples for applying for a marriage license.

This is what the post looked like:

Vice President Mike Pence, a staunch foe of gay marriage, never signed a bill when he was governor of Indiana from 2013-17 to send same sex marriage applicants to jail. The reason? That bill never existed.

It's understandable that there's some confusion on the matter. Here's what happened:

In 1986, Indiana passed a law that restricted marriage to be legal only when it was between a man and a woman. In 1997, the state passed a law forbidding the recognition of same-sex marriages that took place in other states.

Pence was not governor in those years, so he could not have signed either bill.

He was serving his first year as governor in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court that summer overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which stipulated that the federal government could only recognize a marriage between a man and a woman even if a same-sex couple's marriage was legally allowed in their home state. Pence expressed his displeasure, issuing a statement that said in part:

"I believe marriage is the union between a man and a woman and is a unique institution worth defending in our state and nation. For thousands of years, marriage has served as the glue that holds families and societies together and so it should ever be."

The ruling only pertained to federal law and allowed state bans to remain in effect. In his statement, Pence applauded that distinction and said:

"I look forward to supporting efforts by members of the Indiana General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter consideration next year."

Pence, who was Indiana governor from 2013-2017, supported a bill state legislators passed in 2013 that pertained to marriage licenses. The Atlantic noted in July 2013 that:

Lawmakers in the Hoosier State have updated a 1997 law that makes it a felony to falsify information on marriage license. So, any couple of the same sex filling out those forms would automatically violate the law since there are only sections for one male and one female.

The law now states that it is a Level 6 felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $10,000. The old law had a punishment of up to three years in prison.

It's unclear if Hoosiers were actually breaking this law, according to The Northwest Indiana Times, but the updated law will take effect on July 1 of next year.

And the law doesn't stop with just the folks getting married. It also applies to the people -- whether they are a judge, local official, or member of the clergy -- who conduct gay-marriage ceremonies. They could face a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in prison.

In January and February 2014, the Indiana House and Senate separately passed a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. The proposed amenedment never made it on the ballot because of a wording change by the legislature. As the Indy Star reported, the wording change "effectively killed the measure because constitutional amendments must pass the legislature with the exact same language during two different sessions before going to the public for a final vote."

Same-sex marriage remained illegal in Indiana until October 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a ruling that struck down the ban. Pence said he disagreed with the court's decision but would follow the law.

Pence has publicly opposed gay rights since at least the early 1990s, when he was a board member of the staunchly conversative Indiana Family Institute.

As a member of Congress from 2001-2013, Pence continued his strong opposition to any sort of gay rights, particularly gay marriage. The Indy Star notes that:

Pence was an outspoken champion of a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In multiple floor speeches, he said marriage was "ordained by God."

He also opposed President Barack Obama's decision to end the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy that prevented openly gay and lesbian people from serving in the military.

He has not publicly changed those views as vice president of the United States.

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  Arthur Brice

Arthur Brice is a fact checker at Lead Stories. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years, nearly 30 of them in newspapers. Brice was a national desk editor and reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for nearly 20 years. Previously, he was political editor at The Tampa Tribune and also worked for three other Florida newspapers. He spent 11 Years as an executive editor and executive producer at CNN. 

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