Friday, February 09, 2007

South Bend Tribune Opposes SJR-7

By way of the Indiana Law Blog, we see the South Bend Tribune has joined the Indianapolis Star and the Evansville Courier & Express in expressing doubts about SJR-7. The newspaper is particularly concerned about the second paragraph of SJR-7, which Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend) attempted unsuccessfully to remove from the amendment. By the clear language in the second paragraph, SJR-7 would prevent legal recognition of any legal incident of marriage for unmarried couples or groups, including such things as domestic partner benefits, civil unions, protection from domestic violence laws and more. The paper's editors write:

The Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to advance a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in the state. Committee members would have served their constituents better by addressing serious concerns about the proposal. They should have considered, too, the consequences of a similar constitutional mandate in neighboring Michigan.

Indiana Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend, tried during the Jan. 31 hearing (as he also had in 2005 when the Senate first voted for the amendment) to get some tough questions answered. Broden's worries were waved off and Senate Joint Resolution 7 in support of the proposed amendment passed along party lines.

In Michigan, the state Constitution's gay marriage ban has been hurtful, unnecessary and divisive. Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a 2005 decision by an Ingham County Circuit Court judge by concluding that the amendment prohibits public employers -- which include school districts and state universities -- from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose. That is, the Constitution bans them from providing health insurance to same-sex domestic partners. The decision is expected to be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Indiana state government now extends employment benefits to same-sex couples by executive order, as it has through the administrations of several governors. State universities do likewise. Broden expressed worries that the amendment will tie the hands of future General Assemblies by not allowing them to adopt legislation regarding civil unions, and that it will interfere with domestic partner benefits. Broden's concern two years ago -- that the language is vague and potentially fraught with undesired consequences -- has yet to be sufficiently addressed.

One could argue that the answer is to amend the amendment in order to eliminate the vagueness. A better answer is to vote down the SJR7. It isn't needed. State law already bans same-sex marriage and has been affirmed by the state Court of Appeals.

Legislators should be very reluctant to carve new legislative and policy restrictions into the Indiana Constitution, where they will remain forever, regardless of their consequences.

In the case of each newspaper editorial to date, it is the second paragraph of the amendment that has led the editors to conclude the adoption of SJR-7 will produce results beyond a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. The proponents of SJR-7 know full well that these concerns are valid, but they are deliberately lying to legislators about the import of the second paragraph. That being said, one would think lawmakers would be intelligent enough to read the amendment for themselves and reach the same conclusion as these newspaper editors, but the only thing they seem capable of reading on this particular issue is the stated position of the religious right. I hate to say it, but I'm beginning to believe Sen. David Long (D-Fort Wayne) sold his soul to the religious right to win the Pro Tem position. Consider Long's position against requiring the HPV vaccine for young girls, even though it is favored by most of the female members of the Senate. Long's wife, a prominent Fort Wayne television anchor, must be ashamed of her husband's policy decisions.

On a side note, the Tribune's editorial suggests Gov. Daniels has extended domestic partner benefits to state employees by executive order. While Daniels did enact an EEO policy which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, I'm pretty sure he hasn't extended domestic partner benefits to employees with a same-sex partner. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Universities, such as IU and Purdue, have offered domestic partner benefits to their employees.

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