The story notes that the Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors has sent a letter to House Speaker Pat Bauer urging him to remove or rewrite the second paragraph of SJR-7. The group's president warns other faculty members will be lost if SJR-7 becomes law. "Universities across the state are going to lose faculty if this happens," predicted Richard Schneirov, president of the group and a history professor at Indiana State University. "This sends the message that Indiana is not a tolerant place."
As If SJR-7 isn't all about plying a social wedge issue for all its value, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield) responds to the criticism this way: "This is an orchestrated, political attempt to play upon the fears of the gay community as well as the good will of Hoosiers to try and create a fear that simply should not exist," Hershman said." Hershman adds, "I have encouraged those who have tried to spread this false argument about partner benefits to present any kind of legal reasoning based upon Indiana's language, and I'm still waiting," Hershman said. "Their intent is to confuse the issue rather than deal in any factual realm." I guess Sen. Hershman simply dismisses everything he's read on this blog to this point. Remember, this comes from the same man who legislatively tried to block funding to state universities a few years back if they offered DP benefits.
But Hershman also dismisses a Michigan court ruling invalidating that state's DP benefits based upon the different language contained in Michigan's amendment banning same-sex marriages. I like how Hershman cites the best legal minds in the state in support of his contention. "He pointed to interpretations from constitutional law attorney James Bopp Jr., Notre Dame law professors Charles Rice and Gerry Bradley, as well as Attorney General Steve Carter. All said the amendment would not prevent employers from offering the benefits." All four are conservative ideologues who oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians. If it had been up to these four legal scholars, Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state laws criminalizing sex between consenting adults of the same sex, would have been decided in favor of the government and against gays and lesbians.
The issue is not whether a private employer can offer DP benefits. SJR-7 will not impact those benefits. It is the benefits offered by a government actor which is in question. The fact is the unambiguous language of SJR-7 precludes any Indiana law from being interpreted to require the legal incidents of marriage to be conferred on any unmarried couple of group. The proponents first contend this provision applies only to courts. Since when did we limit the application of our state constitution to judges only? The fact is every member of the executive branch and every member of the legislative branch takes an oath to uphold the constitution when they are sworn into office. Sure, the other branches could ignore the provision and enact executive orders or state statutes in conflict with the limitation imposed by SJR-7's second paragraph. But if it is challenged in the courts, the courts are bound by the unambiguous language of SJR-7: "This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." If a university's board of trustees requires the university to offer DP benefits, are they not construing an Indiana law to require the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon an unmarried couple by giving legal recognition to a same-sex relationship?
UPDATE: The Indiana Law Blog has much more on the topic here. Indiana Law Blog editor Marcia Oddi offers this opinion on the debate over the second paragraph:
What does all this mean? What it means to me is: The fact that people disagree about what the proposed language means should be more than enough to keep that language out of the Constitution, for heavens sake!