Alex Tanford, a law professor and council member, said the proposed gay marriage ban would have no impact on IU's domestic-partner benefit policies if it becomes Indiana law.
The amendment says marriage can only be between one man and one woman. It also says state law and the constitution can't be construed to confer marriage or "the legal incidents of marriage" on other couples or groups.
Supporters say the amendment is needed to prevent activist judges from ordering the state and its institutions to recognize gay marriage or provide gay couples with the same rights and benefits as married heterosexuals.
Tanford said it would change nothing with regard to IU's ability to voluntarily provide benefits to unmarried couples.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Would-Be Successor To Bauer Co-Sponsors SJR-7
Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) has been rumored as a possible successor to House Speaker Pat Bauer (D-South Bend). Rep. Pelath is also co-sponsoring SJR-7, the amendment which would enshrine discrimination into Indiana's Bill of Rights against Indiana's gay and lesbian citizens. His own counterpart in the Senate, the late-Sen. Anita Bowser (D-Michigan City), who opposed the amendment and spoke out eloquently against it, surely would have been disappointed by Pelath's decision to not only support but co-sponsor the discriminatory amendment. Pelath is not believed to be interested in succeeding Bowser in the Senate because of his ambitions of moving up in the House Democratic leadership.
Some may be surprised to learn that Pelath works as a human resources director for the Swanson Center in Michigan City. Can you imagine how a gay or lesbian employee there would feel knowing that their own human resources director was trying to write discrimination into Indiana's constitution against him or her? Perhaps trying to soften his image, Rep. Pelath belatedly added his name as a co-author to HB 1459, the hate crimes bill which the House Democratic leadership recently killed on second reading for dubious reasons.
UPDATE: The principal author of SJR-7, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield) contacted me this evening to advise me that it was his decision alone who was named as the principal House authors. He informs me he personally chose Rep. Eric Turner and Rep. Pelath as the House sponsors because of their respective leadership roles in the House within their caucuses. Rep. Pelath chairs the House Rules Committee, while Rep. Turner is Assistant Republican Leader. Sen. Hershman was concerned Rep. Pelath might be harmed by a decision he made. I told Sen. Hershman I appreciated him sharing that information with me. But as I told him, each legislator ultimately must bear responsibility for any legislation to which he or she puts their name. That legislator ultimately must defend why the legislation or, in this case a constitutional amendment, was worthy of their stamp of approval. I should point out I have also been contacted by some Democrats after I first published this post advising me that Rep. Pelath's intentions may have only been to influence the ultimate outcome of the amendment by obtaining a degree of control over it and not meant to lend support to the amendment's passage. Time will tell what Pelath's true motivations are.
On the subject of SJR-7, an AP story reports today the Bloomington faculty of IU voted in favor of a resolution backing IU's domestic partner benefits. The resolution expresses its confidence the benefits will continue even if SJR-7 is enacted. The story quotes a respected IU professor, Alex Tanford, as saying SJR-7 will have no impact on IU's DP benefits. The AP reports:
I was surprised by Tanford's confident assertion SJR-7 would have no impact on the DP benefits. I contacted Tanford by e-mail this morning to express my concern. Although you wouldn't know from reading the AP story, he fiercely opposes SJR-7. Tanford said, "I think the problem is the general fear that this amendment is part of a current wave of anti-gay bigotry sweeping the country (which it is, of course), and that it is this anti-gay atmosphere that may cause the legislature to pass anti-gay laws and/or the courts to strain at interpretations to reach anti-gay results." "The enemy is the political climate, not the particular Amendment." "I still think we should do whatever we can to defeat it -- especially the second section that seems aimed at civil unions," Tanford told me.
I do take exception to Tanford's conclusion about the second paragraph of SJR-7. He believes SJR-7 would "prohibit a court from 'requiring' IU to offer such benefits against its will", but that it would not allow a court to prevent IU from voluntarily offering DP benefits. His emphasis is on the word "require" in the second paragraph, which reads: "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." I look at the issue from the standpoint of a taxpayer who doesn't want our public universities or governments using public funds to, in effect, give legal meaning to a same-sex relationship by recognizing DP benefits for its employees who are in committed same-sex relationships. To that taxpayer, an interpretation permitting DP benefits would have the same effect as interpreting a statute to require "legal incidents of marriage" for an unmarried couple. Tanford contends this hypothetical taxpayer would have no standing to sue the university. Tanford also distinguishes the Michigan court of appeals decision striking down DP benefits in that state because its constitution prohibits civil unions "for any purpose".
While I respect Tanford's well-reasoned arguments, I think he takes a lot to chance, particularly when this amendment is being enshrined in our sacred Bill of Rights. I would observe, though, that even under his argument, SJR-7 would definitely tie the hands of the legislature from passing positive legislation in the future which would require such things as DP benefits, civil unions, inheritance rights, etc.