When Abstaining Isn’t

There’s been an unpleasant little episode playing out at IUPUI, where I teach. Although both Indiana University and IUPUI have officially come out in opposition to HJR6–passage of which would make it incredibly difficult to recruit first-rate faculty–the Executive Committee of IUPUI’s Staff Council recently decided to abstain, and remain neutral.

As the name suggests, the Staff Council is an organization of staff–the administrative assistants, IT experts, development professionals and others without whom the university simply couldn’t operate. And evidently (unlike the situation with faculty, virtually all of whom oppose the measure), some staff members support HJR6.  So the Executive Committee–without a staff vote and in what I take to be an effort to avoid controversy–decided to sit this one out.

The problem is, there are some things you can’t sit out. There are some issues–and this is one of them–where taking “no position” is taking a position.

We don’t think kindly these days about the white Southerners who decided to “stay neutral” about segregation, or the whites (North and South) who “stayed neutral” about discrimination in housing and on the job.

When you say “Well, maybe black children should be entitled to go to school with white ones, but a lot of my neighbors think blacks are inferior and I don’t want to piss off my neighbors so I’ll just stay quiet and accept the status quo,” you are endorsing that status quo. When you say “I know gay people already can’t marry in Indiana, but some of my colleagues want to make sure we outlaw civil unions too, and I don’t want to argue with them,” you are endorsing the legitimacy of your colleagues’ anti-equality position.

I understand that some Christians–certainly not all, or these days even most–consider homosexuality a sin. That is their right. Their churches have a right to preach that doctrine, a right to refuse to marry same-sex couples, to write letters to editors and to fulminate to their family members at Thanksgiving. But in our constitutional system, they should not have a right to deny gay people equal treatment under the law, and (however grudgingly and inconsistently) most courts, government institutions and everyday Americans have come to agree.

The right to equal treatment by civil authority is more than a constitutional requirement; it is a moral touchstone of American culture. It’s not something one can be neutral about.

Refusing to engage–abstaining from the struggle in an effort to placate everyone–satisfies no one. It’s cowardice–and betrayal.   


  1. As I have said many times before; no judgement IS a judgement. You are tacitly agreeing with and supporting the status quo. I have said this repeatedly about those who refuse to vote in elections believing their vote doesn’t count – all those “uncounted” votes and unvoiced opinions cast a heavy ballot load.

  2. Thank you! I am at IUPUI, former staff, former Staff Council member. You have articulated what I have been trying to say since Thanksgiving. Thank you!

  3. A recent letter to the Indy STAR editor used the New Testament admonition to love each other as a reason to ban gay marriage. The writer didn’t recognize the incongruity but thankfully, more and more others do.

  4. As someone who prides themselves on seeing both sides of any issues, I haven’t been able to articulate my reaction to IUPUI’s Staff Council’s refusal to engage. Your reaction aligns with mine as I read the email sent before Thanksgiving. Thank you! Well done.

  5. Several weeks ago, I posted a comment that reflected my deep personal beliefs.
    Since it did not stir a sincere response I decided that I should return to sarcastic and satirical entries.

    However: I’ll try again …

    Today I returned home from a day on the road and discovered after turning the “Brian Williams” news ½ hour on that Nelson Mandela had passed away. Several video clips of South Africa’s past were shown. To be honest, I could detect no difference between that and the early 60’s in Alabama. Except that, these days bigotry has not disappeared in the United States, it continues to flourish.

    Mandela taught the world many things, one important thing was reconciliation and why we, in this day and age, cannot put aside our personal fears and accept all other around us for who they are is beyond my understanding.

    Theory: Cannot think of why anybody would have a problem with gay marriage.

    Reality: Not the same as “Theory”

    I have no personal desire to marry a man (being male). However, I’m tired of others denying me the right to live as I see fit.

    This bill, HJR6 should be rejected in it’s entirety, as should all proposals that will deny anybody equal treatment under the law, irrespective of life style, personal beliefs etc.

    Cowardice and betrayal, it’s immoral.

  6. Want to know who else died recently ?

    11/30/2013 Georgina Somerset; I wonder what she/he he/she
    thought of the attitude from those of the right wing (Sexually).

  7. “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality”. Dante

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