Reasons To Vote No On WI Marriage Amendment

A few months ago, after helping a friend change a tire, we were putting items back in his trunk when I saw a file of legal papers he kept.  I understood instantly the files were there in the case he or his partner were involved in a medical situation on the road which required a hospital or doctor to be aware that this couple could and wanted to make decisions for each other in emergencies.  Included in this file I saw were hospital visitation authorizations, living wills, directives to attending physicians, powers of attorney forms for both health care and finance that were notarized and signed by a raft of people.  Additionally, there were forms for declaration of domestic partner status; a non-binding legal agreement to support the other documents claiming that the one had the right to assist the other in any situation.  All of the forms were in duplicate and reciprocal, and must have cost a fair amount in attorney’s fees.

That is the reality of being gay in America in 2006.  To ensure that basic rights and dignities are afforded gay couples, they must carry expensive legal documents with them–and then even some of those documents may not be honored, and they are to expect that.  How many straight couples have you talked with that need and require the same such paperwork in the case of an accident?  How many expect in advance that their wishes may or may not be honored in a time of crisis?

This fall, a two-sentence amendment to the State Constitution will be on Wisconsin’s ballot and has generated much discussion and anger.  The amendment, as approved in identical form by two consecutive legislative bodies is written to read, “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.  A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”

There is already a law on the Wisconsin statutes regarding the issue of marriage between one man and one woman.  So, the first sentence of the amendment does not change existing law.  The second sentence, however, is where the legally troubling questions arise, and where the future of a just and equitable society hangs in the balance. 

That second sentence would disallow for any future civil union legislation, and endanger legal protections for all unmarried people, be they gay or straight.  In essence, such a measure strips all people of legal redress from abuses of the government when it pertains to establishing meaningful relationships (contracts).  The judicial process would be stymied and even access to the system shut off–making the possibility of fighting for the right later when the society has evolved and changed grotesquely difficult–a level of difficulty not faced by any other group in our history.  Said differently, the Wisconsin State Legislature has asked the people of Wisconsin to decide in a very permanent way the rights of only one segment of the population.  Why should gay people have their civil rights decided upon by a referendum of the masses–what do you think the result of such a vote would have been for the African American people in 1964?  How would the result have been had the rights of Japanese Americans been up for a vote in the 1940s?

In every county, you will find loving gay couples that have taken on all of the responsibilities of a married relationship, yet do not have any of the legal rights that married heterosexual couples enjoy.  By passing this amendment, those rights are denied permanently.  Under federal law, there are over 1,ooo rights that come with a marriage certificate, while Wisconsin provides another 200 legal benefits.

The impact of the second sentence should make heterosexuals very nervous too as it has potentially dire consequences.  Other states that have passed similar legislation (though Wisconsin’s language is more draconian) have met troubling results.  In Ohio, for instance, judges have dismissed domestic violence cases because the abuser was not married to the victim.  The victims were not gay, but the passed amendment did not protect unmarried couples in Ohio.  In other states local governments have taken away domestic partner benefits, such as health care coverage as the result of this type of amendment.  Still others have found themselves stripped even of the rights afforded couples in common law relationships.  The city of Madison is rightfully concerned with this matter, as we are a city of diversity and inclusion. 

Moreover, and in more tangible financial terms, the passage of this amendment will hamper everyone who sends his or her child to the University of Wisconsin.  There is a tremendous need to ensure domestic partner benefits are provided for professors and faculty to insure the very best educational programs can exist for our taxpayer’s children.  Several months ago a much-publicized exit took place from the UW-Madison as a researcher who did not have his partner covered by the same benefits that all other married couples enjoy left the state for another major research school.  When he left he took the $5 million dollars in grants with him and made a bold statement about the need for equality.  He left, even though the university tried to assuage his concerns by adding the cost of health insurance for his partner on to his salary–so he could buy that insurance privately, even though all other couples got it automatically.

When the Republicans forced the issue of gay marriage on the Wisconsin ballot for November, I was not surprised.  Sad, but not surprised.  Striking out at gay Americans is the Republican way to rally their base, excite those who feed on this to ensure they then cast a ballot on Election Day.  The GOP controlled Wisconsin Legislature felt a Republican nominee for Governor could not make it on his own without some red meat to stir the angry white males–the demographic group targeted by the GOP with their anti-gay message.  Perhaps should they have found a better candidate rather than spreading a message of hatred and intolerance?

The religious communities, minus the right wing churches that reject the call of God to love, have shown maturity and ethical reflection as this issue is debated.  Lutherans, mainstream Methodists, and Presbyterians have rejected the hate-filled rhetoric and instead asked the type of question which started this post:  Who should be denied the right to visit their loved one in a hospital room or be denied bereavement time from their job upon the loss of their life’s partner?  Who would it benefit to deny equal rights to all?

Who we are as a State, or who we think we ought to be, is a question we rarely get to answer in one definitive vote.

On November 7th, the outcome of the amendment will indeed give a face to a just progressive state–but will it be the face of our past triumphs in securing rights for all, or will it prove to be face of hatred, injustice, and small-minded bigotry?

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