by Don Sherfick
While both GLBT and non-GLBT political junkies were fixated on the closing days and results of Presidential primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, attention to two developments in the area of so-called “marriage protection amendments” to state constitutions likely was diverted a bit.
The news was good in Pennsylvania, where a measure that would have banned both same sex marriage (already prohibited by law) as well as their “functional equivalent”, meaning civil unions was pulled back indefinitely in the Keystone State’s legislature. Polls showing that the majority of folks in that state favor civil unions might have played a role. But the news was not at all good in Michigan, where its Supreme Court decided that an amendment adopted there erased domestic partner benefits of a significant number of its citizens. The proponents had insisted that this would not happen, but then, as has been typical elsewhere, they flipped 180 degrees and argued just the opposite in court. And here I though that “bait and switch” was confined to car and kitchen knife salesmen.
I haven’t read the full text of the Michigan decision yet, but I’ve seen enough of the beginning not to want breakfast for a couple of days. The court said it was going to ignore all of the ads taken out by amendment sponsors assuring Michigan voters that the measure absolutely wouldn’t touch domestic partner benefits. But it certainly didn’t ignore arguments that the same folks later made insisting that their earlier statements really didn’t mean anything. And here I thought I’d never read “Alice In Wonderland” again after I achieved adulthood.
But, of course, that’s Michigan, and we all know that a combination of too many years of Eastern Daylight Time and it staying light until almost 11:00 pm, plus the fact that higher court judges are popularly elected in oft-times ideological settings takes its toll when it comes to common-sense judicial rulings. Once you cross Michigan’s southern border into Indiana, things are a bit less surreal, with at least a judicial nominating and confirmation process assuring a significant amount of independence and much less potential for politicized decisions. That, notwithstanding right-wing claims that our Hoosier Supreme Court is simply a bunch of “liberal activist judges”.
Yet we in Hoosierland ought not to be too smug in thinking “it can’t happen here.” There is some very long and strong precedent in Indiana for the proposition that its courts pay little, if indeed any, attention to what the various parties put forth when laws and constitutional amendments go through the General Assembly. The justices look at the language itself and decide what it means.
Who knows what, if anything at all, might replace the fuzzy and controversial language, especially in its second sentence, that SJR7, the proposed constitutional amendment that died earlier this year in our General Assembly? I can only speculate.
But one thing is sure: We’re onto the game Hoosier amendment sponsors like Eric Miller, Micah Clark, and Curt Smith played last time. They thrust a proposal on the table, said it could mean only one thing, and refused to change one word despite growing concern by the legal academic community. There are ways to make sure the courts hold them to their representations before any (God forbid) passage when they try to wiggle out later. We need to make sure that the proper language is use to pin them down and make it stick.
Our community often correctly points out that Jesus never said one word about the subject of homosexuality. But it appears that many who claim to be His followers think that when He multiplied the loaves and the fishes he also put out talking points concerning the morality of spinning, baiting, and switching. The rule seems to be that it’s perfectly OK if you think your cause is Godly.
Funny, I’d always thought the end didn’t justify the means. I guess that must have been in that “Alice In Wonderland” version I read as a child.