Hitting a Nerve

As most readers of this column know, I also write regularly for the Indianapolis Star, the largest daily paper in Indiana. My Star columns are usually a bit less…edgy…than my contributions to the Word, and range more broadly across the public policy landscape. While I do write about gay issues on occasion, gay rights is not a central focus.


Recently, however, I devoted a column to the discussion of SJ 7, Indiana’s constitutional amendment to “defend marriage.” Like amendments passed in many other states, SJ 7’s language doesn’t stop at declaring that only marriages between a male and female are valid. It adds Part B, which forbids any court from interpreting any law in any way that might confer unnamed “incidents of marriage” on unmarried couples.


Even those who support banning same-sex marriage have expressed concerns that Part B will prevent municipalities, state Universities and private employers from offering health insurance and other benefits to the partners of their unmarried employees, gay or straight.

These concerns have been met with assurances from Brant Hershman, the sponsor of SJ 7, that Part B has no such intent, and will have no such effect.


I pointed out that courts in other states, faced with similar language, have held otherwise. In the most recent ruling, just a couple of months ago, a Michigan court stated "The marriage amendment’s plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose." The Court dismissed all the Hershman-like statements by Michigan legislators that the language absolutely didn’t mean what it obviously said as political posturing and instead gave effect to the law’s “plain language.” (Darn those activist judges!)


I also noted that the sincerity of supporters on this matter might be evaluated by logging on to the web site of the Alliance Defense Fund, a right-wing organization promoting same-sex marriage bans. The ADF—like our local proponents—had adamantly denied that Part B-type language would interfere with the rights of public and private employers to extend benefits to their employees’ partners. According to the ADF web site, “Preying on these and similar fears, advocates of same-sex ‘marriage’ argue that proposed state marriage amendments will undermine the ability of government and even private entities to grant benefits to unmarried people. This false argument is being used to confuse many people…”


And what did that same organization have to say about the Michigan ruling? Under the heading “Michigan Court Does the Right Thing,” the web site self-righteously reported “The benefits plans violated the Michigan marriage amendment, the Court of Appeals rightly reasoned, because the government plans at issue extended health insurance benefits to the same-sex partner of an employee…Whether the benefit is health insurance or season tickets to the U. of Michigan men’s’ water polo team,  governmental units in Michigan may not condition receipt of the benefit on being in a relationship that tracks with the state statutory requirements for marriage.”  


In my Star column, I simply pointed out the obvious: proponents of this ban know same-sex marriage is already illegal in Indiana, and they also know that Indiana courts have already upheld the current law. There would be no reason to pass SJ 7 except to void those few benefits that gay couples now enjoy.


It was after that column ran that things really got interesting.


I’m used to getting a few nasty emails, and seeing some negative letters to the editor, but the attack this time was several magnitudes greater. That led me to conclude I’d hit a nerve, so I did a bit more digging around. And guess what I discovered?


Brant Hershman, the sponsor of SJ 7—the guy who has called critics of Part B “liars,” the guy who says he has nothing against gay people, the guy who says Part B absolutely wouldn’t do what it says it will do, the (divorced) guy who is just “defending the sanctity of marriage” has a very illuminating legislative history! For example, in 2003, right after Purdue University  began offering same-sex partner benefits, he sponsored the following bill


SECTION 42. IC 5-10-8-1.5 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW SECTION TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2003]: Sec. 1.5. (a) A state educational institution (as defined in IC 20-12-0.5-1 ) that provides group coverage for health care services for the state educational institution’s employees shall provide coverage for only the:
        (1) employee;
        (2) individual to whom the employee is married under IC 31-11-1-1 ; and
        (3) employee’s dependent:
            (A) child; and
            (B) stepchild;
under the employee’s coverage.
    (b) A state educational institution that provides coverage for health care services for an individual other than the individuals described in subsection (a) is not eligible for public funding related to the group coverage.


In other words, “Purdue, give those gays benefits and bye-bye state funding.” Pretty clear.

That bill didn’t pass, but it sure sheds light on the ferocious reaction to my column!  I had—mostly inadvertently—hit them  where they were least truthful, and therefore most vulnerable.