Board opposes marriage amd., neutral on voter ID

The Board of Trustees formally took a public stance in opposition of the proposed state marriage amendment this weekend. The amendment, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, would amend the Minnesota Constitution to stipulate that only a union of one man and one woman will be valid and recognized as a marriage in the state.

According to a press release, the Board found that the marriage amendment “denies basic human dignity and rights to our citizens,” and that “such a denial is antithetical to the mission of the college.”

The Board came to a unanimous consensus at its Executive Session meeting last Friday, but to the frustration of some students the body failed to take a stance on the voter ID amendment.

Student, faculty and alumni efforts played a crucial role in forcing the college to take a public stance against the marriage amendment. Trustee Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen said that the Board felt urged to take action from the Macalester community and local trustees alike. The issue of the marriage amendment wasn’t even on the Trustees’ agenda until one week before the meeting.

“We did feel pressure,” Hart-Andersen said. “There was no resistance to putting it on the agenda.”

With nearby schools, namely Hamline University, struggling to make a similar gesture, some feel that Macalester’s formal stance could create a ripple effect in the area. MCSG senior class representative and member of the Campus Life Committee Jonas Buck ’13 sees the Board’s decision as a step in the right direction.

“I think this sends a very strong message to other institutions on the marriage issue,” Buck said. “We’ve seen other institutions not take a stand and this is incredibly important, at least within our little world of Minnesota colleges.”

Many students see the Board’s statement as a relief despite Macalester’s reputation as a predominantly liberal institution. Alvin Kim ’14, co-chair of Macalester’s Queer Union (QU), considers the consensus a timely victory for the school and the communities which it impacts.

“I think it was important—particularly with the offensive graffiti that keeps occurring in the Grate—that the administration let the entire community know that all students are welcome and, perhaps more importantly, that those who are homophobic are not welcome,” Kim wrote in an email. “Because Macalester is already stereotyped as a liberal school, it’s important that some more surprising decisions occur at other institutions.”

Though Buck realizes that Hamline’s Board may have already lost its last chance to take a stand, he shares Kim’s hope for a continuation of the debate.

“I hope that this is something Hamline picks up on and puts even more pressure than students are already putting on the administration there to potentially back up on their initial actions,” he said. “I think, no matter what, this will definitely have them questioning their own decisions and that’s really important.”

But students and alumni alike are urging Macalester to remember that the school’s formal opposition to the amendment does not win the race. According to Michael Halpern ’99, who contributed an op-ed to last week’s issue of The Mac Weekly regarding the amendment, if voters are passionate about turning this statement into reality they have to act on the recurring demand to get out the vote.

“I really think it’s critical not just to focus on the statement but to focus on what can be done with it to defeat the marriage amendment in November,” Halpern said. “A good deal of what we have gained with this statement—a reaffirmation of Macalester’s commitment to multiculturalism—will be lost if the amendment passes… Every Macalester student who believes that this amendment should be defeated should vote early…and volunteer to get out the vote.”

Voter ID fails to draw Trustee action

The Board also discussed the proposed voter ID amendment last weekend but failed to reach a consensus on the school’s stance. With no Board meeting scheduled before Election Day, Macalester will remain neutral on the issue.

Student feedback was a major factor for pushing the voter ID amendment forward into the Executive Session, which was only open to Board members and President Brian Rosenberg who serves in an ex officio role on the Board.

Hart-Andersen is the Chair of the Campus Life Committee, where discussion was initially introduced by students serving on the committee.

“Frankly, we were surprised with the intensity students showed in wanting us to take the voter ID issue to the Board,” Hart-Andersen said. “One of the main concerns of the committees is to take student concerns to the Board, and I did bring those concerns to the Executive Session.”

Though Hart-Andersen said he couldn’t elaborate on the details of the closed-door discussion, the Board ultimately took action on the marriage amendment and not the voter ID amendment because they saw them as “fundamentally different in their impact.”

“The marriage amendment would exclude a class of citizens,” Hart-Andersen said, “whereas the other makes it difficult to vote, but any voter could still meet those requirements. [The voter ID amendment] is not a fundamental assault on individual rights and liberties.”

Despite choosing to not take a public stance, many Trustees were sympathetic to the concerns raised by students about the dangers of implementing voter ID.

“Individual Trustees were not enamored by voter ID,” Hart-Andersen said. “But it just didn’t rise to the level of excluding the citizenry of basic rights.”

“Despite how many of us feel individually about that issue, we judged it to be fundamentally different in kind from the issue of the marriage amendment,” President Rosenberg agreed in an email regarding the Board’s actions on voter ID.

Student Involvement

The Campus Life Committee was a key force on campus working towards a Board decision on voter ID. The group spent the days and weeks leading up to the meeting trying to push a consensus onto the Board’s agenda. Though Board meetings happen behind closed doors, committee members hoped to persuade the body to put the amendment to a vote.

“[We] worked really hard on trying to convince the Trustees to vote on voter ID,” Buck said. “We presented formidable arguments about it and I felt that at least our committee, which was comprised of about 10 Trustees, was responsive. However, I don’t know what happened with the actual voting session… It just didn’t make it through to a vote.”

Given these efforts, plus an MCSG vote that formally established the body’s opposition to the voter ID amendment, Buck was surprised by the Board’s decision to remain neutral on the issue and wants answers to the reasoning. The committee sent Hart-Andersen to the meeting with copies of the results of a poll that MCSG took of the student body’s stance on the amendment, which was in line with MCSG’s vote, to distribute to the rest of the Board.

“I thought that if they didn’t vote on one of them, they would not vote on the marriage amendment. In hindsight I’m realizing that…it would be a lot more toxic for the board not to touch that,” Buck said. “At this point, I’m left with more questions than answers. Why was it not brought up for a vote? Did something happen in between sessions where they decided not to bring it up?”

For some the reason is obvious: according to Halpern, the marriage amendment is a greater threat to the college than voter ID.

“I personally do not support Voter ID laws,” Halpern said. “But I see this as ultimately a political issue that is a direct threat to our democracy but not to the college. On the voter identification issue, the institution was right to stay silent.”

Buck disagrees, urging that the school missed an opportunity that may ultimately harm its own students.

“I think it would’ve been really powerful, more so than on the marriage amendment, for universities to get in line and oppose voter ID because it so directly affects students,” he said. “Macalester as an institution punted on the issue for this election cycle, but students don’t have to. We can work a lot more fluidly and efficiently.”