Indiana, South Carolina Offer License Plates For LGBT Equality: UPDATED

March 19, 2012
LGBT equality license plate from Indiana, sponsored by the Indiana Youth Group

LGBT equality license plate from Indiana, sponsored by the Indiana Youth Group

UPDATED: See below

Specialty license plates can raise big bucks for schools and advocacy organizations, but they can also raise a good bit of controversy -- just think of the anti-abortion license plate recently proposed in North Carolina or the religious plate approved by Texas' Department of Motor Vehicles board, which was appointed by former GOP presidential contender Rick Perry.

The latest entries into the crowded field of specialty plates center on LGBT rights. That's probably to be expected, given the amount of publicity that marriage equality and LGBT hate crimes legislation have gotten in recent years. What's not expected, though, is the states in which these plates have debuted: Indiana and South Carolina.

Historically speaking, Maryland was the first state to offer an LGBT license plate. Sponsored by Equality Maryland, it launched in 2008 and runs $25.

The Indiana plate arrived far more recently, proposed by an organization called the Indiana Youth Group, which offers "services and programs for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth and their allies". According to the Courier-Journal, the plate was rejected twice by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but it has now been given the green light. The plate costs $40 on the BMV website, $25 of which goes to the Indiana Youth Group.

The South Carolina plate is so new that it isn't even on sale yet. It launches on January 30 at a cost of $25, according to Q Notes. Half of that fee will go to SC Equality, "a statewide non-partisan coalition of local and state social, religious, and political GLBT organizations and allies with a mission to secure civil and human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender South Carolinians."

This is interesting news for a couple of reasons:

1. None of these three states offers marriage equality for LGBT couples (though Maryland does provide civil unions, and there's pending legislation that could ramp up that language to include full marriage). In fact, Indiana and South Carolina have laws that expressly forbid same-sex marriage. We'd have thought that we might see LGBT equality plates in places like Iowa or New York or Massachusetts, which already offer marriage to LGBT couples -- but then again, maybe those are the states least in need of such plates.

2. The South Carolina plate arrives at almost the same time as the GOP presidential primary, which is this Saturday, January 21. Since most of the Republican candidates -- with the exception of Ron Paul -- have touted their opposition to marriage equality, it'll be interesting to see if and how the new license plate figures into the last-minute ads and stump speeches. We'll be watching in Indiana, too, as it gears up for a primary on May 8. 

We're curious to know your thoughts about specialty license plates. Most drivers seem very comfortable with plates affiliated with colleges and universities, but those associated with advocacy groups can make folks a little squeamish. Do social and cultural statements belong on license plates, or should they remain the province of bumper stickers? Or does putting these messages on license plates give them the gravitas they need/deserve? 

Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATED: As you might expect, conservative lawmakers were strongly opposed to the Indiana Youth Group's license plate, but legislative efforts to revoke it would've resulted in plates from many other organizations being 86ed, too. And so, Indiana has found a way to cancel it on a technicality: according to Bilerico, the Indiana Youth Group granted some low-number plates to its major supporters, which is a legal no-no.

Have other groups done the same thing? According to the state's former communications director for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, yes, it was fairly common practice. However, it's technically forbidden in the contract these organizations sign with the state, so Indiana was within its rights to revoke the Youth Group's license plate.

For the record, the Indiana Youth Group isn't alone: according to the BMV, a review of other organizations' activities was carried out, and the Bureau has found the Greenways Foundation and the Indiana 4-H Foundation to be in violation, too, so their plates have also been revoked. After all, fair's fair.

[via John Voelcker]

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