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:

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.

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.


12 comments:

garvey said...

Why is it no one, not one single R, will step up and make the kind of speech before the Indiana Legislature like Rep. Zwonitzer of Wyoming did?

Here is the text of his speech. Copy it & pass it along to everyone you know....

__________________

Thank you Mr. Speaker and Members of the Committee.

I am not going to speak of specifics regarding this bill, but rather talk about history and philosophy in regards to this issue.

It is an exciting time to be in the legislature while this issue is being debated. I believe this is the Civil Rights struggle of my generation.

Being a student of history, as many of you are, and going back through history, most of history has been driven by the struggle of man against government to endow him with more rights, privileges and liberties to be bestowed upon him.

In all of my high school courses, we only made it through history to World War 2. It wasn't until college that I really learned of the civil rights movement in the 60's. My American History professor was black, and we spent a week discussing civil rights. I watched video after video where people stood on the sidelines and yelled and threw things at black students walking into schools, I've read editorials and reports by both sides of the issue, and I would think, how could society feel this way, only 40 years ago.

Under a democracy the civil rights struggle continues today, where we have one segment of our society trying to restrict rights and privelges from another segment of our society. My parents raised me to know that this is wrong.

It is wrong for one segment of society to restrict rights and freedoms from another segment of society. I believe many of you have had this conversation with your children.

And children have listened, my generation, the twenty-somethings, and those younger than I understand this message of tolerance. And in 20 years, when they take the reigns of this government and all governments, society will see this issue overturned, and people will wonder why it took so long.

My kids and grandkids will ask me, why did it take so long? And I can say, hey, I was there, I discussed these issues, and I stood up for basic rights for all people.

I echo Representative Childers concerns, that testifying against this bill may cost me my seat. I have two of my precinct committee persons behind me today who are in favor of this bill, as I stand here opposed, and I understand that I may very well lose my election. It cost 4 moderate Republican Senators in Kansas their election last year for standing up on this same issue. But I tell myself that there are some issues that are greater than me, and I believe this is one of them. And if standing up for equal rights costs me my seat so be it. I will let history be my judge, and I can go back to my constituents and say I stood up for basic rights. I will tell my children that when this debate went on, I stood up for basic rights for people.

I can debate the specifics of this bill back and forth as everyone in this room can, but I won't because the overall theme is fairness, and you know it. I hope you will all let history be your judge with this vote. You all know in your hearts where this issue is going, that it will come to pass in the next 30 years. For that, I ask you to vote no today on the bill. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Garvey. We need a BUNCH of Rep. Zwonitzers in the Indiana General Assembly.

10001110101 said...

Sometimes legislators become sponsors of bills for the sole purpose of controlling them, and not necessarily because they believe in them.

Anonymous said...

Friends.. I know gay employees who work for Mr. Pelath in MC-- and they are appalled and scared.

Advance Indiana said...

10001110101 said, "Sometimes legislators become sponsors of bills for the sole purpose of controlling them, and not necessarily because they believe in them."

When you're a part of the majority party, you already have the means to control the legislation by determining whether it gets a hearing, what amendments are allowed, etc. It hardly makes sense to put your name on a constitutional amendment in which you don't personally believe simply to claim to exercise some control over it.

Don Sherfick said...

Your conversation with Tanford is interesting as to "permit versus require". Regardless of how this particular DP issue might come out, the language of SJR-7 is full of things that raise significant interpretational questions for courts to resolve. In formulating amendments language, legislators have a duty to minimize unintended results, especially where the Bill of Rights in our Indiana Constituion would be involved. We have to keep trying to impress upon them that any degree of known uncertainty is a very undesirable thing, whether one is for or against same sex marriage, civil unions, etc.

Anonymous said...

I understand that Pelath instituted employment protections for sexual orientation into the organization he runs in Michigan City many years ago. Seems that there may be more to the story-- and you would be the right one to dig it out, Gary.

Besides, maybe someone can explain to me how Hershman can claim he "SENT" it to Pelath? What does that mean?

Advance Indiana said...

anon 11:07, the original author of the bill selects legislator(s) in the other chamber to carry his or her bill. Of course, the legislator in the second chamber must consent after being named by the original author to have his or her name added to the legislation. I would be interested in knowing more about the non-discrimination policy Pelath instituted at his place of work. He should be duly credited if that is the case.

Anonymous said...

To contact us:
450 St. John Rd.

Michigan City, IN 46360

E-mail: webmaster@swansoncenter.org

This is the information you'd need I'd think to get the employment criteria for his work.

Interested Observer said...

I've learned that it is not uncommon in the General Assembly that when a measure is passed by one house the "sending" manager names "receiving" managers in both parties, and that this may or may not say anything about how a "receiving" manager may feel or vote concerning the measure. I also understand that while as a matter of courtesy and common sense the "receiver" should be told in advance by the "sender", this doesn't always occur either, and I get vibes that in this case, Senator Hershman may not have observed that courtesy. Maybe your site ought to follow through with asking that question.

I also understand that the firm at which Representative Pilath is HR director has some pretty significant statements in it personnel policies and practices against discrimination based on sexual orientation. These are also reflected in collective bargaining agreements with the representing labor union. Given that, I would not be so quick to judgement as to his opinions and motives as you appear to do.

Advance Indiana said...

Interested Observer, I would love to hear from Rep. Pelath. If Sen. Hershman could contact me to explain the situation from his standpoint, Rep. Pelath could do the same if he's concerned his co-sponsorship of the amendment is being misconstrued by this blog. If this were a budget bill, I would totally understand your point, but this is not a budget bill. It is an amendment to our state's constitution on one of the most controversial social issues of our time.

Advance Indiana said...

For the record, Rep. Pelath voted for SJR-7 two years ago. There is no reason to believe his position has changed at this point.