Thursday, December 08, 2005

Time For Wisconsin To Reclaim Its Progressive Heritage

The egregious constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin is now one step closer to making the November ballot, and is likely to take that final step in the coming weeks. Yesterday, the Wisconsin state senate voted along strict party lines to approve the amendment for a second time, leaving passage through the Republican-controlled Assembly as the last barrier to the November ballot.

From the "No On The Amendment" blog:

The Senate voted in favor of the amendment along party lines. But in a major victory for us, two senators -- Sens. Hansen and Breske-- had time to think about how far this amendment goes and switched their vote.

Yes, it is a disappointing loss, but today's vote leaves me incredibly optimistic.

It proves that we can change the hearts and minds of Wisconsin senators, and with a year in front of us, we have time to share our stories and to change the hearts and minds of Wisconsin voters.

This quote is a great reminder of the best foil to social conservative religious legislation: making the issue personal. When gay marriage is looked at in purely ideological terms, it tends to be very easy for religious conservatives to hide behind their misinterpreted dogma and fool themselves into believing that making gays second class citizens is morally defensible. However, once a personal face is put on the issue, once it involves real people's lives and families, reason is unstifled and the religious ideology loses its traction. That's what needs to happen in Wisconsin over the next 11 months.

There is no moral defense for institutionalizing bigotry against homosexuals in the Wisconsin constitution, and a ban on gay marriage is nothing more than that. It's a clear violation of the separation of church and state as well, as there is no socially relevant reason to ban gay marriage, either. In fact, giving homosexual couples the same rights and privileges for marriage is a positive good for society. It reaffirms our commitment to civil rights and also helps build more stable family structures. Sadly, today's religious conservatives essentially have a "slash and burn" strategy towards legislating their religious dogma; they would rather see people's lives and families destroyed than question their own religious convictions. Such intractability is anathema to a democratic society.

Further, I would argue that civil unions are not much better from a civil rights perspective. Yes, they grant the same statutory rights, but they do so under the auspice of segregation. As our history has shown, "separate but equal" is an ideology doomed to catastrophic failure. It didn't work on race issues and there is no significant difference between race and sexuality that will cause such a strategy to work now. However, I am willing to concede that at least civil unions are better than nothing at all. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Amendment seeks to eliminate both. State Republican Senator Scott L. Fitzgerald, the primary author of this abomination, has been very clear in the media that the amendment was written to insure the courts could not institute anything even "substantially resembling gay marriage." Of course, such vague language assures that this issue is going straight to the state Supreme Court (and probably higher), but then expecting rational thought from a Republican willing to pen such an amendment is pointless.

Even from a strictly statutorial stance, this amendment runs contrary to the entire purpose of having a state constitution. The Wisconsin constitution, which is modeled after the federal one, is supposed to define the function, design and responsibility of the state government, along with expressing some basic civil rights held by all residents. Given that the definition of marriage has changed dramatically just in the short time that the United States has existed, it's pure foolishness to try and insert such social policy into the government framework. The problem for the Republicans is that they know Democratic Governor Jim Doyle would veto the legislation if they used the legitimate legislative process. Thus, they have to make an attempt to subvert the state constitution for their religious agenda. Pathetic, and patently undemocratic.

This issue is a defining moment for the state of Wisconsin. We have the opportunity to be the first state in the Union to reject the Religious Right's contention that homosexuals be treated as second-class citizens. For a state with a proud tradition of progressive ideals and individualism, this is Wisconsin's chance to reaffirm those commitments to civil rights and equality.

One last point: I would like to offer my respect to the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin who, on November 28th, released a joint statement with Action Wisconsin condemning this amendment. I don't normally support the Libertarian philosophy, but it's certainly nice to see them on the side of social justice. Given the overwhelming opposition by the Green and Democratic parties, this leaves the Republicans with their cheese out in the breeze alone, as it should be (well, can't forget: the insignificant Constitution party, which is basically just the Republican theocrats that don't like Bush, supports this amendment as well).

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