Sunday, February 18, 2007

IU & Purdue, Look What's Happening In Kentucky

Kentucky has a constitutional amendment already on the books, which is strikingly similar to Indiana's proposed constitutional amendment, SJR-7. The Kentucky legislature is well on its way to approving this year a state statute which prohibits state universities from offering domestic partner benefits. The legislation was launched after the University of Louisville became the first public university in that state to announce it planned to offer domestic partner benefits. “From an economic development position this does send to the rest of the country that this is an enlightened institution,” trustee Bill Stone told the AP in explaining the rationale behind the domestic partner benefits at UoL. “This is not an endorsement of gay marriage or any of the other lightning issues.”

Reaction from the Christian right to the UoL's announcement was swift. Sen. Richard Roeding (R-Lakeside Park) immediately announced he would introduce a bill that would prevent public institutions from offering benefits to unmarried couples - especially same-sex couples. “I don’t want to entice any of those people into our state," said Roeding. "Those are the wrong kind of people.” Reacting to the draconian and discriminatory legislative effort, University of Louisville President James Ramsey pleaded with lawmakers to reject the legislation. "We do believe in diversity, and we are competing against schools that do offer that benefit," Ramsey said. His plea fell on deaf ears as a Kentucky senate committee approved the bill with only one dissenting vote.

The Kentucky debate is quite relevant to the current debate here in Indiana concerning the impact of the second paragraph of SJR-7 on domestic partner benefits, which are currently offered by the state's two leading unversities, Purdue and IU. One of the prime sponsor's of the Kentucky legislation, Sen. Vernie McGaha (R), believes that giving benefits to same-sex couples would be tantamount to approving gay marriage, which the Kentucky Constitution and state code specifically prohibits. Dave Edmunds, with the conservative Family Foundation, testified in favor of the legislation saying the bill was necessary to plug a way around the state's constitution which bans same-sex marriage.

Kentucky's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriages reads: "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.” That language is strikingly similar to SJR-7. Unlike Indiana, there was no precedent for offering domestic partner benefits in Kentucky by a governmental actor or public university prior to the passage of Kentucky's amendment. As AI previously reported, the principal author of SJR-7 here in Indiana, Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield), actually offered an amendment to the state budget in 2003 to cut off funding to Purdue University and other public universities which offered domestic partner benefits--that in response to Purdue's decision to offer the benefits to same-sex partners. Hershman insists SJR-7 would have no impact on domestic partner benefits, but a Michigan appeals court ruling on that state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages casts doubts about that assertion.

What you are seeing happen in Kentucky is a belief that offering domestic partner benefits is a way around the constitutional ban. Rather than take the university to court before the benefits take effect, supporters appear to have enough support in the current legislative session to pass a state law prohibiting domestic partner benefits outright--a law the proponents believe fulfills the constitutional mandate of its own gay marriage ban--and effectively ending the debate. I can tell you that Jim Bopp and Eric Miller converse with the fundamentalist groups in other states on these matters, such as Kentucky, and support these types of legislative moves. Bopp has in fact represented fundamentalist groups in Kentucky seeking to overturn code of judicial conduct rules which barred state judicial candidates from stating their views on gay marriage and abortion. This is just one more reason folks here in Indiana need to understand that the assurances of Hershman, Bopp and others that SJR-7 won't end domestic partner benefits can't be believed.

Just look what happened in Michigan, and look at what's now happening in Kentucky. In the case of Michigan, no action was required by the religious right after the amendment's passage. A workers' rights group launched the court case because the Michigan Attorney General issued an opinion that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriages prohibited any government actor from offering domestic partner benefits. The Michigan Court of Appeals confirmed the AG's opinion. There is every reason to believe that the religious right could muster enough votes in Indiana to enact a state law prohibition on domestic partner benefits in furtherance of the purposes of SJR-7, even without mounting a court challenge. It is unlikely any court would strike down such a law based on Indiana's equal protection clause because of the second paragraph of SJR-7, 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."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is just sickening.

And so unnecessary.