Dear Indiana General Assembly Member:
I know you’re plenty busy with the property tax mess this short session, but I just got my State Income Tax booklet and am very confused. I hope you can help me.
The tax instructions say: “Nothing on your tax form (IT-40) shall be construed to require you to report any income of any kind.” But the form specifically says I have to report all of my income on the appropriate lines.
What am I supposed to do? Will a judge convict me if I don’t report anything, and I am charged with tax evasion? Please don’t tell me I need a tax lawyer.
[If you think the above sounds a little bit like what’s in the so-called Indiana “Marriage Protection Amendment," you’re right on target. Even if you don’t, please follow me over the break]
You see, that one little word “construe” is at the very heart of a BIG controversy about the second sentence of the proposed amendment, which would become part of the Bill of Rights of the Indiana Constitution if its supporters have their way. It says:
Nothing in this Constitution or any other Indiana law may be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.
Now that legal gobbledygook is about as helpful and clear as those things the IRS and Indiana Department of Revenue put out regularly to keep H.R. Block shareholders able to afford gallons of Starbucks coffee. It’s also the stuff the pushers of the constitutional amendment want to put in front of Hoosiers to figure out in the voting booth next November. That is, if you let them get by with it.
I ask you what if, for example, an Indiana traffic law said: “Nothing on any traffic sign may be construed to make drivers come to a halt when approaching intersections.” I pull up to a big red octagonal sign that yells “STOP” at me... but I don’t... and an unhappy policeman issues me a citation. I take it to court and the judge scratches his head. Am I guilty or not? If so why? If not, why not? Was the sign enforceable? Did the law invalidate the sign? Did the folks who put up the sign act contrary to the traffic law?
Now go back and substitute the amendment for the traffic law, and “other Indiana law” for the traffic sign. See the problem?
Without flinching, those folks who want the General Assembly to rubber stamp the proposed amendment say that if it passes, legislators like you could still pass laws giving marriage-like rights to unmarried couples, just so long as they were “clear”, whatever that means. They insist that if a law “clearly” confers those “incidents” on unmarried couples, it would be constitutional, despite the amendment telling judges that they can't interpret it that way.
Sure... just like it’s “clear” that the "clear" traffic sign trumps the traffic law. Uh-huh. If you buy that I have this bridge for sale. I think it used to cross the Mississippi River in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The sponsors, by the way, are the very same people who have come up with at least three different and conflicting definitions of what the term “legal incidents of marriage” is supposed to mean. Take your pick, or maybe draw straws. It appears that those same devious Hoosier “unelected activist judges” that amendment sponsors distrust so much concerning creating law out of thin air are going to have to unscramble it and other vague terms if the amendment makes it into the Indiana Constitution.
Oh, by the way, that story about what’s in my tax instructions was a little fib just to grab your attention. I don’t think that’s perjury because I didn’t use any swear words. Just quoting the 31 words above isn't using bad language, although they certainly could be considered that. I think Mom would have washed my mouth out with soap if she heard me using them in polite company.
But the whole matter about the “Marriage Protection Amendment isn’t a fib... it’s all too true and too serious. Please do your constitutional duty and treat it as such for the benefit of all Hoosiers.
And I'll report all of my income on my tax form. Honest I will.