Dear Speaker Bauer,
A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision bans school districts and state universities from providing health insurance and other benefits and protections, such as the one against spousal rape, to same-sex domestic partners. Many universities throughout our state provide such domestic partner benefits, including Ball State University, Indiana University, Indiana State University, and Purdue University.
Due to the similarity of Michigan's constitutional amendment with the one being currently considered by the Indiana General Assembly, we believe that SJR7 has the strong potential to disrupt or prohibit the availability of domestic partner benefits for state-supported institutions of higher education. We believe it would be against the best interests of the state to restrict the ability of our institutions of higher education to attract the best faculty members available. As a result of similar concerns, The Indianapolis Star, Evansville Courier and Press, Forth Wayne Journal Gazette, and South Bend Tribune have already editorialized against the amendment as now written.
This past fall, as you may remember, The State Conference of the American Association of University Professors was pleased to have you as a luncheon speaker. We represent faculty at faculty at IU-Bloomington, IUPUI, Ball State University, Indiana State University, Vincennes University, IU-North, IU-South Bend, University of Indianapolis, and Hanover College. We respectfully recommend that the language in this resolution be rewritten to head off an interpretation that might threaten benefits and protections provided university faculty and staff.
SJR-7 has been assigned to the House Rules Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City), a co-sponsor of the amendment who also voted for it two years ago. Typically, the assignment of legislation to the Rules Committee is not a good sign because it is often used as a burial ground for legislation the Speaker doesn't want to see the light of day. The fact that the committee is chaired by one of SJR-7's co-sponsors creates an added twist.
Rep. Pelath was stung by criticism from this blog for his decision to co-author the amendment. Even the Senate Republican sponsor of SJR-7, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield), rushed to his defense. I have to say that at this point the prospects of SJR-7 at least being amended this year, even if it is ultimately approved by the legislature, have brightened. If it is amended, the process will begin anew and it must await approval of a successive General Assembly two years from now in the exact same form. That would delay a statewide vote on the amendment until at least 2010.