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Why Same-Sex Marriage Fight Is Important For Wisconsin

February 3, 2014

It was only a matter of time to find the right court cases to be used in Wisconsin so the fight for marriage equality would include our families and neighbors.  This is the type of legal battle that this state needs given the draconian constitutional amendment passed in 2006, and in light of the major Supreme Court case that struck down DOMA and allowed federal benefits to be given to gay married couples.  While this is but yet another beginning in a long march for full civil rights for gay people, there was a feeling of hope in the air on Monday.

Shortly after the news hit the wires our phone rang with a friend on the other end wondering if we had heard the news.  It was that type of a day where there was energy and optimism about the future lives of gay couples in the Badger State.

As with so many other cases around the nation, the federal court heard from Wisconsin couples that the ban on gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection under the law.   At the end of any legal proceeding that is the crux of the case.  But there is more to the journey for gay rights with same-sex marriage than the legal wrangling’s that will fill many news columns in the months to come across the state.

There are also the personal stories that underscore the need for equality.

Last May James and I took a cruise to Alaska.  I love to plan for vacations, and one of the things I am noted for (0ften with some laughter) are my very long and detailed lists of things to pack.  But one of the items we took was not laughed at, since we are a gay couple with no legal rights.  Therefore  it was most important to have those items with us, and not lose them.

Packed into a bag that we carried with us on the plane, and locked into our stateroom’s safe was a 25-page legal document that we had to pay for which outlined all the wishes and desires if one of us should become sick or hurt and needed medical attention.  Included in this file 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.  Even then there is no way to say they would have been honored in case of emergency.

I am quite certain that heterosexual married couples who go on vacation from Wisconsin do not need to pack like we did.

Since James and I are not married there is no legal right that he can just make the decisions I would want him to do in case of a crisis.  For all practical purposes, given the current laws of this state James is a legal stranger, though he has been my constant companion, better half, and partner for 14 years.

Nearly a decade ago when I needed to contemplate how to resolve an employment matter I was advised by one of Milwaukee’s best lawyers that James would need to leave the office as anything I said in his presence might be used against me in court.  My relationship with James would not be recognized in a legal setting as a spousal privilege as the attorney client privilege did not extend to him given the laws of the state.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has reflexively stated he will defend the constitutional amendment and it made me think of the last soldier who falls on the battlefield before all the parties to the war call for an end to hostilities.  It would be a sign of not only political maturity but indeed statesmanship if Van Hollen had instead taken the moral step and declined to defend the indefensible.  By the actions he took it is clear to me that another political race is in his future, and he dare not anger the right-wing in this state.  But if Van Hollen were to listen to the people–or his own conscience–he would know of the many loving gay couples that have taken on all of the responsibilities of a married relationship, yet do not have the legal rights that married heterosexual couples enjoy.

Let us not forget that when the Wisconsin amendment was placed before the voters (and be mindful no other group had to beg for civil rights via the ballot box) it was done so as a way to rally the base for the gubernatorial election that year.  It was sad, pathetic politics from the Republican Party.

But I was heartened by some of the the religious communities, minus the right-wing churches that reject the call of God to love, when it came to the maturity and ethical reflection as this issue was debated.  Lutherans, mainstream Methodists, and Presbyterians rejected the hate-filled rhetoric and instead asked the type of question that still resonates these many years later.  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?  Why are some couples more legally protected than others?

To be blunt I would ask my readers why my 14-relationship to James is not on the same legal par as theirs?

I have never been under any illusions that the road for same-sex marriage would be anything other than rocky and all uphill.  But that has never been a reason to lower my sights about making sure that gay couples have the same rights as all other loving couples do when it comes to marriage.  The last huge battle over marriage was the one that seems down-right silly today, that being the right for those of different races to be able to wed.

As we fight for equal rights in Wisconsin it might be useful to recall that more than 90% of Americans opposed interracial marriage in 1948.  That was the same year that the California Supreme Court required that if interracial couples wanted to be married they must be allowed to do so.   The U.S. Supreme Court would not find the ‘correct case’ until 1967 so as to render a national decision on the matter.

The amount of money and anger from those who wish to deny gay civil rights will one day be looked at in the same light as those who worked feverishly to deny inter-racial couples their rights.

All those in the fight for justice in Wisconsin need to keep their chins up and their thoughts always in a forward direction.

We have allowed through the ballot process the face of hatred, injustice, and small-minded bigotry to be placed up for the whole nation to witness.  Let us work and also hope that the face of what once made Wisconsin shine–our progressive values–once again wins the day.


  1. February 5, 2014 9:17 PM

    I am not a lawyer–needless to say–but it is my understanding that it is a lawyer’s ethical obligation under professional standards to withdraw from a case in which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement. One can respect the larger concept of ‘law’ and still work within the lines of a moral code.

  2. tom permalink
    February 5, 2014 8:22 PM

    While I agree with your stance on gay marriage, I must insist that Van Holland must due his constitutional duty to defend the laws enacted by the will of the voters. He has taken an oath to do so unless directed by an action of the legislature to do otherwise. We are a society of laws.

  3. Solly permalink
    February 4, 2014 3:55 PM

    Maybe ol J.B. Von Hollen could pull a few of his Assistant Attorney Generals that are prosecuting people who have the audacity to sing in the Capitol and defending discrimination in the constitution and free them up to prosecute companies that take money on pre-paid LP gas contracts and then stiff their customers!

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