Blog Debate: Question 1 Answered
Question: The debate and conflict over the gay marriage amendment is based on the effect it will have on Wisconsin. Describe what this effect will be, in your opinion, including relevant societal, legal, and moral factors. Make sure to include your analysis of the effect of the infamous "second sentence."
Before I dig in, two things.
First, thanks to Owen for graciously participating.
Second, as my anonymous heckler notes, calling this the “gay marriage amendment” misinforms voters.
This amendment would add two equally weighted sentences to our Constitution. The first restates existing marriage law. The second bans anything “identical or substantially similar” to marriage, like civil unions—something polls show a majority of Wisconsinites favor.
It’s more accurate to refer to the amendment as the “civil unions and marriage ban.”
Now, to the question. It’s a big one, and I’ll give a broad answer, knowing I’ll be able to fill in details during the coming weeks.
The effect on society
According to the 2000 census, gay couples live in every county of Wisconsin and many are raising children. Thousands of families like mine are minding their business, paying taxes, abiding laws, and sharing the same responsibilities and concern for our families and for Wisconsin as anyone else. We certainly do not intend to attack anybody’s beliefs or marriages.
Strong families--including ours--are the bedrock of strong societies.
This is not an abstract debate about the "institution of marriage"; it's about real people, people like Ray and his partner, Richard, a World War II combat veteran who recently passed away. From Josh's post last week:
Their story brings into sharp relief the unfairness of treating people differently--even people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for others--simply because they’re gay.By foreclosing the possibility of civil unions--or civil marriage--this ban would make life harder for thousands of our Wisconsin families. And the ban would tie the legislature’s hands, severely limiting its ability to provide Wisconsin’s tens of thousands of gay families with any of the protections and obligations that keep families and our society stable.
The question is: should people like Richard and Ray, committed for 49 years, be singled out for discrimination? Should Ray not have the right to be recognized as Richard's next of kin after a lifetime together, after caring for him through sickness and now death?
Lawyers cannot draft a document that comes close to providing all of the protections of civil unions or a marriage license. Gay families who can afford it, often cobble together a few basic protections like wills and powers of attorney. Some couples are fortunate to work for employers who offer domestic partner health insurance. For example, the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, and the La Crosse School District offer these benefits.
But if the ban passes, those existing legal documents are in serious jeopardy. A legal status “substantially similar” to marriage is extremely vague, and will no doubt be challenged in court--often at taxpayers’ expense.
Other states provide the evidence to back that up.
Upon the passage of a civil unions and marriage ban in Michigan, the City of Kalamazoo decided to stop offering benefits to gay families. From an April 2005 news report:
The city of Kalamazoo has decided to stop offering benefits to same-sex partners of its employees.In Ohio, judges have even dismissed domestic violence cases involving unmarried heterosexual couples because the victims were not married to their alleged abusers. Judges ruled that the state's ban prohibits legal recognition for any unmarried couples--even when it comes to domestic violence.
But, the city will spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to go to court and fight the Attorney General's decision.
Ohio’s Supreme Court will be ruling on whether the domestic violence law can apply to any unmarried couple.
Because of these concerns, 347 Wisconsin legal experts wrote letters to lawmakers urging them to stop the ban, and groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence strongly oppose it.
Many ban supporters are conflicted. They understand it's not the government's role to interfere in private family matters, they know it’s wrong to single out a minority group, and they generally don’t want to hurt their fellow Wisconsinites.
This is why so many religious bodies are on our side. While most of them do not support marriage for gay couples, they do believe that our moral foundation calls upon us to treat gay families with respect, compassion, and dignity. To show their opposition to the ban, they often quote the two greatest commandments, "You shall love the Lord your God" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Gay and lesbian people are our neighbors.
And I believe reason and compassion are on our side.
8/8 UPDATE: For those of you just joining the debate, the first question and rules are here at the moderator's site. Owen over at Boots and Sabers posted his response to the question here.