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Open Letter on the Marriage Amendment

Open Letter on the Marriage Amendment

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Published by debrafitzpatrick401
Open Letter from 43 Humphrey School faculty on the public policy implications of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.
Open Letter from 43 Humphrey School faculty on the public policy implications of the Minnesota Marriage Amendment.

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Published by: debrafitzpatrick401 on Oct 19, 2012
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05/28/2015

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Open Letter on the Marriage Amendment from Humphrey School Faculty
On November 6, Minnesotans will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would limit thefreedom to marry, reserving it exclusively for opposite-sex couples. State statutes already bar same-sexcouples from the benefits, rights, and privileges of marriage. The ballot proposal would cement thisprohibition and elevate it to constitutional status by writing it into
our state’s
foundational document.We, the undersigned members of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs faculty, oppose theproposed amendment to limit the status of marriage to opposite-sex couples. In speaking plainly andpublicly on this issue, we seek to carry on the legacy of our
school’s
namesake, Hubert H. Humphrey,
who declared that “the worst evil of all is indifference” and called on
 
us to “walk fo
rthrightly into thebright
sunshine of human rights.”
We make our statement today as individuals but we are guided by oursense of obligation, as public affairs educators, to advance the common good in a diverse world and tocontribute to statewide discussions of important questions of policy and law.In line with these values, we aim in this letter to clarify some matters under dispute and explain why webelieve Minnesotans should join us in rejecting the proposal to amend our state constitution.Controversies over marriage equality are not new. Although we may differ in our beliefs about whetherthe freedom to marry is a basic human right, it is important to appreciate two historical facts aboutmarriage in our society. First, we have had many traditions of marriage in the United States, with manydifferent answers to the questions of who can marry and on what terms. Second, marriage has alwaysbeen a battleground for civil rights and a flashpoint in group struggles to achieve the dignity of full civicstanding.As a form of property sold through contract, slaves in America were barred from entering into contractsof their own
 – 
whether for work or for marriage. As the Emancipation Proclamation made free labor thelaw of the land, it also extended access to marriage, so that former slaves could enjoy this status as otherAmericans did. In the ensuing years, many states chose to limit the rights of blacks to marry whites.Minnesotans today can be proud that our state was not among them.State laws banning interracial marriage were abolished during the mid-twentieth century, as part of thenational struggle to win civil rights for racial minorities. Similarly, women moved toward full and equalstanding in society as new marriage laws ended their legal subordination under marital coverture and newdivorce laws transformed marriage into a union based on love, commitment and individual choice. Suchmoments of transition have always been accompanied by protest and predictions that marriage itself would not survive. But changes to marriage have rarely imperiled marriage. To the contrary, they haveallowed marriage to remain vital in a changing society and have played a key role in our collective jou
rney toward the “more perfect union” promised by the U.S. Constitution
.In our fields of study, we evaluate proposed policy changes in many ways. None is more fundamentalthan the question of whether a new policy, established by a statute or constitutional amendment, will yieldsocietal benefits. In our view, the case for a constitutional restriction on marriage fails this most basic test.To begin with, it is essential that voters bear in mind the distinction between a statutory restriction on thefreedom to marry, which is already in place, and a constitutional amendment. State constitutions aredesigned to serve democracy by placing a set of basic rules and agreements outside the give and take of everyday politics. Constitutions allow us to safeguard our basic framework of policymaking byestablishing provisions that are very difficult to alter. Statutes are designed to be far more susceptible tomodification, ensuring that future generations can choose new courses of action as they grapple with theirown changing needs, values, and challenges.
 
 
The proposed marriage amendment turns this logic on its head, using the state constitution to cement aparticular set of value commitments and tie the hands of future generations of Minnesotans. Reliable pollsmake it clear that younger Minnesotans, who will inevitably lead our state into the future, favor marriageequality in large numbers. The Minnesota Constitution serves a vital democratic purpose for our state; itshould not be used to impede the process of democratic policy change or to prevent future generationsfrom making laws that accord with their own beliefs and values. Indeed, passage of the proposedamendment would open the door for similar uses of this policy device in other issue areas, turning the
state’s constitution
into a vehicle for cementing policy victories today
at the expense of Minnesota’s
ability to govern itself tomorrow.Beyond broad defenses of tradition, proponents of the amendment have said little about how Minnesotansmight benefit from an enduring constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The few specific claims thathave been advanced do not withstand scrutiny. We know of no reliable evidence, for example, to supportthe assertion that marriage will be weakened as a societal institution if same-sex couples are allowedequal access. A second major claim
 – 
that the proposed amendment is needed to protect children
 – 
can beassessed based on a substantial body of research. Like the Board of the Minnesota Chapter of theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics, which recently voted unanimously to oppose the proposed amendment,we find no social-scientific basis for concluding that children will be harmed if same-sex couples areallowed to enter into marriage.By contrast, the proposed amendment has the potential to generate significant costs over time forMinnesotans. Five hundred and fifteen Minnesota laws and 1138 federal laws currently rely on maritalstatus to determine benefits, rights, and privileges. These laws are connected to one another and toadditional policies in a host of complex ways. By reserving these marriage-based policy benefits foropposite-sex couples, and by embedding them into our constitutional framework, the proposedamendment would impose enduring costs most directly on same-sex couples and their children. From theworkplace to the hospital and beyond, the constitutional amendment would deprive members of theseMinnesota families of significant benefits, rights, and protections
 – 
potentially destabilizing long-termrelationships and making families more vulnerable to events that threaten their well-being.The potential costs of the amendment are not limited to same-sex couples and their children, however. Bydividing loving relationships into first- and second-class statuses, the proposed amendment risks creating
confusions and conflicts across Minnesota’s policy
system. This risk is likely to be compounded if Minnesotans abandon the efficiencies that have historically flowed from recognizing that a marriagemade in one state is valid in all others. As a growing number of states embrace marriage equality forsame-sex couples, the proposed constitutional amendment would risk trapping Minnesota in a quagmireof interstate and intrastate policy disputes. For these reasons, we concur with members of the Universityof Minnesota Law School faculty whose Open Letter concludes that
the proposed amendment “will likely
generate litigation over both its validity and its scope
” and that passage invites
 
significant and needlessexpense for the state and its citizens during a time of extraordinary economic difficulty
.”
 Because we value cultural diversity and religious freedom, we support the rights of communities inMinnesota to vary in their preferred conceptions of marriage and family relations. At its best, Americanhistory has demonstrated that such differences of belief can be defended and honored alongside a systemof equality before the law. It is precisely this equality before the law that will be at stake when we go tothe polls on November 6. As Election Day approaches, we hope our fellow Minnesotans will rememberthe words of Hubert H. Humphrey:
“Equality means equalit
y for all
 — 
no exceptions, no 'yes, buts',
noasterisked footnotes imposing limits." 

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