Indiana is divided over the controversial HJR-3 bill and the prospect of amending the Indiana State Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. The University of Indianapolis released a statement in opposition to the then HJR-6 bill on Dec. 12. According to the email from UIndy President Robert Manuel, the bill and amendment would go against UIndy’s history of inclusion and policies against harassment and discrimination.
“It became clear by the end of the semester that most wanted the university to have a statement on the public policy because it had the potential to impact our operations and the type of community we are trying to develop,” Manuel said. “It was not a personal decision: it was a president looking at how we manage the inflow from that.”
Manuel said that he assembled a panel of leaders of the most influential groups on campus, including the Faculty Senate, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, the Cabinet, Academic Affairs Leadership Team and Indianapolis Student Government.
Manuel said that he asked the leaders and their groups to consider whether or not the amendment would support the university’s environment. He said that all of the groups supported a statement from the university that opposed the amendment.
“The decision came out of our university constituents at the pace that was comfortable for them,” Manuel said. “It came out with a message that was theirs. We did not succumb to pressure from any [outside] groups.”
Manuel said that the university decision will not be the final say on the amendment, and that he encourages individuals on campus to form their own opinions.
“There are people who are opposed to the decision,” Manuel said. “And I would encourage those who are for or against it to search for their own truth relative to their own values structure and to take part in the democratic process if we have a referendum on it.”
The other part of Manuel’s plan was to hold a series of conversations to get the campus community engaged in the issue and get people to consider all aspects. The first talk covered the legality of the issue, while the second discussed the ethical and religious aspects.
Assistant Professor of History and Political Science Maryam Stevenson was a panelist at the discussion of the legal issues. Stevenson said that HJR-3 is essentially an extension of existing state law because there already is a law against gay marriage in Indiana. She said that the idea behind this push is to cement the ban on gay marriage in the state.
“Really, the distinction is how much more difficult it will be to change the law,” Stevenson said. “A law in the constitution is much more difficult to overturn than an act of the state legislature.”
To put the issue in perspective, Stevenson noted that a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court or an act of Congress would trump any ban by the state, whether an act of the legislature or a constitutional ban.
She said that it is more common than people might think for a state constitution to deal with policy issues, which is one reason why state constitutions are so much longer than the federal constitution. She said it is not unusual on the state level to regulate freedoms, but it is a little more unusual at the federal level.
“We tend to think, as a society, as part of our political culture, that the constitution’s role is to give protections and not to take them away,” Stevenson said. “But even the U.S. Constitution has taken some freedoms away. Prohibition is a good example.”
Professor of Religion and Philosophy Gregory Clapper presented the religious perspective. According to Clapper, the five largest denominations of Christianity in the United States all say in their official church documents that marriage is between one man and one woman and that gay marriage is not true marriage. The five largest groups are Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, United Methodists, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Church of God in Christ.
However, Clapper said, there are some smaller religious groups that “are more open to homosexual behavior and gay marriage.” These groups include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church and the Disciples of Christ.
According to Clapper, a criticism that is often lodged at Christians who are against gay marriage is that if they accept some Old Testament laws like those against homosexual behavior, that they should follow all of them. Clapper quoted from the United Methodist’s Article of Religion number six, which makes the distinction between moral laws in the Old Testament and ritual, ceremonial and civil laws.
According to this article, and similar principles of Biblical interpretation, Christians should follow the moral laws, for instance, against homosexual behavior—but can disregard the others such as kosher dietary laws, rules about clothing or the use of stoning as a punishment.
Clapper said that although the groups representing the majority of Christians disapprove of gay marriage, it is not up to Christians, finally, to judge gays and lesbians: that is ultimately for God. With regard to earthly laws, there is room for dissent and personal decision making.
“In my view, then, Christians who are speaking from their conscience might vote either way on this constitutional amendment, depending on the criteria they invoke,” Clapper said. “Either way, there are principled paths for decision making that should not be dismissed as either hypocritical on the one hand or unchristian on the other.”
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Peter Murphy was part of the second discussion on HJR-3 from the ethicist’s perspective. Murphy said that the root of the issue is morality for both sides of the debate. Murphy said that the people who are against HJR-3 use obvious moral language. They say that it is wrong to discriminate against same-sex couples and that they should have equal rights. On the other side, he said, the people who approve of HJR-3 have religious views that suggest that gay and lesbian relationships are wrong.
“That is the one thing that both sides actually agree on is that, at bottom, the debate is about ethics and morality,” Murphy said.
In the panel Murphy brought up the arguments that opponents use to show why same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married. Murphy said that his goal was to give tools that people could use to understand the morality of the issues.
“There are different pieces of reasoning that people can offer, but we have to have the tools to scrutinize them,” Murphy said. “People can say anything—this or that is right or wrong or that’s discriminatory— but it has to be supported and stand up to criticism.”
He presented five arguments that opponents often use to argue against gay marriage. He said that people have claimed that homosexual relationships have higher rates of promiscuity, have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, gay and lesbian relationships are not capable or reproduction, that gay sex acts are themselves morally wrong even if both parties consent to them and that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry harms the traditional family.
Murphy encourages people to think clearly through the arguments against gay marriage and if they do agree with at least one of the traditional arguments against gay marriage, they should consider whether that should matter legally. An example he cited is that of infertile heterosexual couples. He asks, are they inferior couples too? Should they not be allowed to marry as well? Murphy said that another thing people should think through is whether moral issues like this have any legal implications.
Murphy said that opponents of HJR-3 may have trouble with the amendment as it stands, without the original second clause which also banned civil unions, because they do not believe that civil unions are enough. They want the title of marriage too. To them, he said, it is demeaning.
“I think there are serious issues about that and whether that is actually an acceptable compromise …” Murphy said. “We might hear from opponents of HJR-3 that that’s not enough. It [allowing civil unions] still treats them as second class citizens. It gives them the rights, responsibilities and privileges, sure, but why can they not have the title, too?”
Murphy also said that the discourse in the media has been lacking and that conversations like what the university held are important to make citizens better informed about the underlying issues rather than the superficial glossing over that the mainstream media have used in covering the debate.
Manuel hopes that these talks have prepared the members of the university community to play their part if the amendment comes to a vote. Manuel said that part of the beauty of this process is that the voters are the ultimate decision makers—not the university.
“If we have done our job in these conversations, the faculty, staff and students should be engaged themselves. When it comes to a referendum, they will not ask the university to vote, they will ask individuals to vote,” Manuel said. “I think what we have done really well is provide context to engage our students in order make informed decisions at the ballot box.”