✓ Duke College Republicans mum on proposed anti-gay amendment to state Constitution

Scroll down to Friday’s post for the text of the statement from the University and Duke Medicine.

The leadership of Duke College Republicans has fallen silent, and not responded to repeated DukeCheck requests for comment on Friday’s declaration that the University and Duke Medicine officially support gay families and marriage, and thus stand in opposition to a GOP-generated proposed amendment to the North Carolina state Constitution.

Even Peter Feaver, the usually outspoken political science professor who acts as faculty adviser to the College Republicans, did not respond.

Meantime, a broad spectrum of stakeholders has spoken out, enthusiastically supporting Duke’s announcement. 

And DukeCheck has learned that the Durham County Board of Elections has agreed to operate an early voting site on the Duke campus. This is a key strategic move that opponents of the amendment have fought for.

The vote itself occurs on May 8th as part of the state’s primary election, three days after the last final exams and the departure of most students. It’s expected that the campus early voting station will generate a lop-sided vote against the amendment, with an “extensive network of captains” already enlisted to insure a big turn-out. 

The Board of Elections will announce official details later this week. We believe early voting will start on April 19th — when there will be a big rally on campus.

THE REACTION

Trevor Dickey MD ’15, president of the first year class at the Medical School, was typical.  ”I can give you my personal opinion, which is that it is wonderful to see Duke come out on the side of support and tolerance for the LGBT community.”

He added, “I don’t think that a leader in medicine, such as Duke, could come out on the side of intolerance towards any community since medicine itself requires understanding and empathy towards all individuals regardless of sexual preference, culture, race, or gender.”

That sentiment was also expressed by Chancellor Victor Dzau, who told DukeChecker Sunday night,  ”I believe that inclusiveness and diversity are central to Duke Medicine as a caring community when dealing with patients and their loved ones, our employees, faculty, staff, and students as well as job applicants.”

At the Law School, Justin Becker Law ’12, president of the Duke Bar Association, the student government, who is openly gay, said “I support Duke as an an institution making a statement.”

He added, however, “I believe the statement fails to emphasize the true heart of the issue.  While competition and retention of talent is surely an important factor for the university, it is but a by-product of the true issue: discrimination written into a State’s founding and most reverent document, the Constitution.  Such discrimination would be in direct contradiction with Article I Section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution which states that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights, the final enumerated right being the pursuit of happiness.  Is the pursuit of happiness not the end goal here as to the desire for marriage equality?”

Becker added that student government in the Law School is formulating a policy statement on the proposed Amendment.

Felicia Hawthorne, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, said her organization is “supportive of the stance the University has taken on this very serious issue.”

DukeCheck wrote alumni association leaders in several more conservative states.  Fred Caswell ’57, president of the alumni club covering Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and his wife Sandra Ratcliff Caswell ’58, responded simply “we support the amendment,” presumably meaning they oppose university policy.

Thomas Clark ’69, former president of the global Duke Alumni Association and the first openly gay Trustee of the University, picked up on our use of the word “bold” in our story reporting Duke’s announcement:  ”Finally Duke has become ‘bold’ on the LGBT inclusion issue…. Duke has good policy on this issue but doesn’t like to talk about it, probably for fear of alienating alums, donors, local community.”

He sees “accelerating change in Duke’s culture…. moving in the right direction.”

Clark currently heads the LGBT Network, part of the Duke alumni structure. “Good for Duke in making a clear statement on this issue; but I have to ask: how could Duke not do it?”

DUKE STUDENT GOVERNMENT

Pete Schork, president of the undergraduate Duke Student Government, supported the  university’s announcement — and said he expects a resolution from student government within the next two weeks that will be even more emphatic.

That’s a reference to Duke’s need — as a tax exempt institution — to avoid direct intervention in politics, that is, to avoid telling people to vote NO,  and rather just state its own policy and the benefits that have accrued to the university.

Chancellor Dzau put it this way:  ”We as a non-political healthcare and educational institution cannot nor should we take a position on (the amendment). However, it was important to me for Duke Medicine to join in conveying convey our ongoing support as an inclusive organization.”

One source told DukeCheck:  ”We had a series of meetings with the administration throughout December and January — with Vice President Michael Schoenfeld in the lead for the university — to hash out the details of the statement, to figure out what the administration was willing to say, and to make sure that we could make the language of the statement as inclusive as possible. It was a very straightforward and warm-spirited process.”

Dzau confirmed what the Allen Building Mole told us on Friday:  the statement came from Duke University and Duke Medicine because the two “have a large number of employees distributed separately. By including both Duke University and Duke Medicine, the statement conveys we are conveying the totality of Duke’s our diversity efforts.”

Dzau added, “ This is an institutional position so it was not attributed to any one individual – that is why neither President Brodhead or my name are used.”

Jacob Tobia ’14, executive chair of the umbrella organization Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination, applauded the statement’s enumeration of Duke’s commitment — from medical benefits, to family leaves, to respect for the LGBT community and the goal of the university’s helping to create ”more equal world.”

In addition to securing a statement from student government, Tobia told DukeChecker his group is preparing a group statement that student organizations can sign on to. There is a parallel effort involving individuals that will begin soon.

Each of these efforts will go beyond Duke’s official version, and state explicit opposition to the amendment.

And the internet is coming into play. Almost 300 individuals on campus have had their picture taken and they will shown starting in two weeks on http://voteagainst.org/

Tobia said a video is being produced — called “Make It Better” — as part of the out-reach effort to show individuals what they might do. Prominent administrators and student leaders have already been taped.

Among those not responding to DukeCheck requests for comment: Hardy Vieux, the current president of the Duke Alumni Association and Trustee, and Susan Lozier, chair of the faculty’s Academic Council.

COMPARISON WITH CALIFORNIA

Some of the people writing to DukeCheck have noted the extreme difference between California’s Proposition 8 and the North Carolina attack on gay families and marriage.

In California, the State Supreme Court ruled that gays were entitled to marry under the state Constitution. Then, under California’s unique laws proving for direct voter initiatives, an out of state group got a public vote to overturn the Supreme Court.

Next, a federal judge, and more recently a federal appeals panel, ruled that Prop 8 violates the federal constitution. Violates, yes, but only in the narrow sense. The court did not find a federal constitutional right to marry. It did say that the unique initiative procedures in California  resulted in the people using “their initiative power to target a minority group and withdraw a right that it possessed.”

It’s expected this will land in the lap of the US Supreme Court.

Unlike North Carolina, Prop 8 only affected marriage and did not eliminate domestic partnerships, while in N.C. the proposed state constitutional amendment says hetero marriage between man and woman is the only acceptable form of partnership.

The North Carolina proposal contains language that is ambigious that could affect medical plans like Duke’s, for example, that cover gay families. The language might also lead to a ruling denying access to the courts to anyone who might, for example, have a dispute under Duke’s medical plan.

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