Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Purdue Officials Asleep At The Switch

A story in today's Lafayette Journal & Courier provides further evidence that officials at Purdue University are clueless about the broad-reaching impact of SJR-7. Barb Middleton tells the paper she is dependent upon her partner's domestic partner benefits at Purdue University and she is concerned she will lose those benefits if SJR-7 is enacted, but a Purdue official says she has nothing to worry about. Dan Shaw writes:

Barb Middleton says she relies on the health insurance offered to her through her domestic partner's employment at Purdue University to be able to run her small business.

Now she worries that a movement to make the Indiana Constitution ban same-sex marriages will end those benefits.

"It would certainly change things for us as a couple and for our business," she said.

She and her partner, Nancy Strack, who works in the Purdue College of Liberal Arts, owns the LongHouse Farm, where they raise organic food and make a specialty popcorn.

She and others are worried about the possible effects of Indiana's proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages because of a ruling made by a Michigan court on Feb. 2. The court said that Michigan's similar ban prohibited state constitutions from granting fringe benefits to employees who lived with domestic partners but were not legally married.

Barry Schreier, a spokesman for Citizens for Civil Rights, said he believes a similar constitutional amendment in Indiana would undermine Purdue's policy of granting those benefits to the domestic partners of employees. Purdue adopted the policy in 2000, partly as a way to avoid losing scholars and administrators to universities that already had granted the benefits.

"This strikes at the financial competitiveness of the university," Schreier said of the proposed Indiana amendment.

Still, the fears of Schreier and others did not stop the Indiana Senate on Monday from passing Senate Joint Resolution 7, which next goes to the Indiana House of Representatives. If approved by the entire General Assembly, the resolution would allow Hoosiers to vote on the constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot.

On Monday, Joe Bennett, a Purdue spokesman, said lawyers have told university officials that they shouldn't be concerned about the resolution. And he doesn't think the Michigan decision is an indication of what effects a ban on same-sex marriages would have in Indiana.

Just because something happens in one area, that doesn't mean it will happen here," he said. "There are going to be differences."

Gayla Ruark of the Purdue University Human Resources Department said 31 university employees take advantage of the health insurance granted to domestic partners.

Indiana law already bans gay marriage. But Schreier said he thinks the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages may affect Purdue's policy because of the resolution's second provision. It states: "This Constitution or any other Indiana law may not be construed to require that marital status be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

Schreier said the passage is unclear and will invite judges to interpret its meaning. That result will be ironic since proponents of the amendment say they want to prevent judges from defining marriage other than as a union between a man and a woman, he said.

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Wheatfield, who helped write the resolution, said, "I have consulted constitutional scholars and the attorney general. And these assertions are simply false."

Sorry Sen. Hershman, the only one making false assertions are you, Jim Bopp and the rest of the religious zealots who are determined to replace our civil laws governing marriage and other family law matters with fundamentalist religious laws. I don't know from whom Joe Bennett is getting legal advice about SJR-7, but he obviously hasn't consulted any attorneys who don't have a biased, religious agenda. Any unbiased constitutional scholar would tell you that SJR-7 on its face prohibits a government actor from offering public employees domestic partner benefits because such benefits would be considered a legal incident of marriage, which is exactly what the Michigan court held. Again, read these words:

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.

Bennett should also be reminded that the Jim Bopp types made similar assurances to Michigan officials when this very concern was raised during consideration of its constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages or similar unions, only to see domestic partner benefits invalidated by courts soon after the Michigan amendment's adoption.

Hat tip to the Indiana Law Blog for catching this story, which points out that the story omitted the pertinent words of the second paragraph of SJR-7 in its story. I feel like my 9th grade algebra teacher who was fond of saying "when all else fails, try reading the directions." The same goes for everyone involved here. Assuming you are literate, please read the words of the second paragraph of SJR-7. It's not rocket science, and you don't have to be a legal scholar to understand the plain meaning of those words.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fortuitous title for this one - In the late 90s Joe Bennett of Purdue fell asleep at a stoplight in Indy while driving a Purdue car. He was arrested for driving under the influence, although he seemed to have gotten a better outcome than many of the students who just weeks earlier were criticized by Bennett for public intoxication during Purdue's Grand Prix Event.