Love and Commitment Deserve Protections

Last Wednesday, the day of the floor vote in the state Senate on the amendment, I woke up with a fire in my belly, ready for a long day at the Capitol. I expected-- like at the public hearing-- the back and forth between amendment opponents and supporters. This is not what I found.

For those unable to hear or see the debate on the amendment and on the many amendments to the amendment in the Senate, let me tell you what I saw.

When the floor session first got started, the first person to jump to his feet was Senator Hansen from Green Bay. He was ready and itching to tell the Senate just what was on his mind. But before he had a chance to utter more than five syllables, the protocol told him to wait for the sponsor’s introduction.

Senator Fitzgerald --the main sponsor--then started the hearing with a 40-some minute explanation of why he crafted this amendment.

After waiting for almost an hour, Hansen was finally able to jump up again and explain his change to the amendment. He impassionedly argued that the second sentence of the amendment goes too far and codifies hatred into our Constitution.

Seeing Senator Hansen’s passion against the amendment, in juxtaposition with his previous ‘yes’ vote, was incredible. He had heard the stories of his constituents--heard how it would hurt real Wisconsin families--and argued vehemently to stop the progress of the amendment.

During the next four hours, Senator Tim Carpenter explained his proposed changes to the amendment--changes that sought to prevent the fact that this amendment as currently worded will hurt families, ban civil unions, threaten domestic partnership benefits, and threaten domestic violence protections, among other far-reaching consequences.

The sponsor--Senator Fitzgerald--during his many remarks and rebuttals would alter between arguments claiming his proposed amendment would not ban civil unions but (in orwellian doublespeak) would actually allow them, or that (ironically) the courts would have to decide the interpretation of what is “substantially similar” to marriage.

Each proposed amendment to the amendment received a full floor vote of the senators following the discussion of the what and whys of the changes. Most of the senators--in particular most of those who voted for the amendment--weren’t even in the room to hear why domestic violence safeguards, health decisions, and child custody laws should be protected from the broad wording of this amendment.

When they called to a vote each change, the 20-some senators who weren’t present would rush into the room to cast their votes. At times I wondered if they even knew what they were voting on. Or why it had been proposed.

I focused my attention on the moderate Republicans who had met with Action Wisconsin members and who had received literally hundreds of letters, postcards, and calls from constituents against the amendment. Having seen the faces and heard the stories of families unable to share health care or have two legally-recognized parents for their kids, it was amazing to see these senators so blithely voting down protections for their constituents.

These moderate Republicans remained silent during the length of the 5 hours. You could tell a plan had been put in place, and that everyone was to follow the plan.

While Senate Democrats took turns arguing against the amendment and in favor of legal protections for gay and lesbian couples and their families, the Republicans remained largely silent. None even considered speaking, except for Fitzgerald who answered all questions about the amendment. And except for Senator Roessler from Oshkosh who spoke up once.

Roessler stood up and going off message (and surely off game plan) from what Fitzgerald kept hammering home about the amendment, said that her vote was not about party politics. She said that she is for both sentences of the amendment, not just the one banning marriage, but also the second sentence. Why? Because unmarried couples should not have rights outside of marriage.

This statement is very telling. It shows how many of the proponents of the amendment do not recognize, first, the diversity of families in their constituency, and second, that love and commitment make a family. Families come in many different shapes and sizes--from single parents, to divorced parents, to gay and lesbian couples and parents; from families with children or without, with or without elderly relatives in the home--families are about love and commitment to each other. Families who do the hard work of taking care of each other through thick and thin deserve legal protections to help keep their family together.

Not everyone who voted for the amendment so quickly disregards families that don't have a marriage contract. Even though most remained completely silent during the five hours of debate, I have to wonder if there aren't some hesitations in the Republican caucus.

Senator Carpenter right before the last vote said something that we should all remember in the next year leading up to the election. He said that having had private conversations with many of the senators, he thought that if it were a secret ballot the amendment would not move forward.

Pending Assembly passage, next November 2006, we will all go to our polling place and vote on whether gay and lesbian families who are loving and committed deserve protections. And luckily for Wisconsin, that vote will be a secret ballot.

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1 Comments:

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Heidi said...

I was also in the gallery during the Senate vote and agree-- some Republicans had their doubts.

I saw a melancholy Senator Brown from Eau Claire rubbing his eyes for a solid 40 seconds just minutes prior to the vote on the amendment.

Shame on all those who didn't stand up for what they believe in, but instead fall to party politics.

 

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