Blog Debate: Question 3 Answered

Thanks again Owen and Jenna for participating in this debate. Here's the third question:

The second clause of the ban reads, “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” Recently, Charlie Sykes wrote a column decrying the second sentence as too extreme. First, what purpose does it serve, or why did the authors of the constitutional amendment include it? Does it, in fact, go too far? Would the ban have more or equal support if it stopped with the first sentence? What effect will the inclusion of this sentence have on support or opposition to the ban?

My response:


The second sentence outlaws civil unions and seriously jeopardizes existing legal protections for thousands of Wisconsin families.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is a problem. As Jenna highlights in her question, conservatives like Charlie Sykes remain highly suspicious of the ban’s language:
While the first sentence is clear, straightforward, and quite specific the second sentence is far more sweeping and ambiguous, lending itself to a wide range of interpretations.
Even Rick Esenberg, a ban supporter, who will debate the “yes” side in a Wisconsin Public Television mock trial, says this about the second sentence:
I have to admit that I don't much like it. … The amendment goes beyond saying that the constitution does not mandate civil unions to say that they may not be established. I would rather not do this.
If the ban contained only the first sentence, it would be much more difficult to defeat it. But the second sentence is there and is equally significant. Are the objectives of the first sentence really so urgent that we should approve a 50 percent flawed amendment into the governing document of our great state? Hardly. The first sentence is not a matter of life and death. Wisconsin will not be hurt if we fail to use our constitution to double ban gay marriage.

So why is the second sentence even there?

As Owen notes in his response to the first question, it's there to take power away from the legislature, now and in the future.

How many times, when debating marriage for gay couples, do we hear people say they’re fine with rights for gay families so long as it’s not called “marriage”? The second sentence is a preemptive move against that compromise position. Knowing that more than 60% of Wisconsinites favor civil unions, Representative Mark Gundrum and Senator Scott Fitzgerald--lead sponsors of the ban--worked with Julaine Appling, head of the Family Research Institute (FRI), to create an amendment that actually stops the democratic process.

The second sentence, in other words, is meant to prevent our future elected representatives from reaching a decision that Appling, Gundrum, and Fitzgerald don’t like. It's meant to prevent future generations--who already support civil unions in large majorities--from passing such legislation.

There's more going on here too. Ask Julaine Appling about the second sentence and she’ll tell you it’s merely to prevent courts from instituting “look-alike” marriages for gay couples.

Their agenda is obviously about more than marriage. Appling’s group opposes anything that acknowledges the reality of gay families in mainstream American life. She and her national partners oppose domestic partner health insurance, basic nondiscrimination protections, and even the decriminalization of private intimacy between gay couples.

They want to sell the people of Wisconsin on the first sentence while smuggling a whole host of far-reaching objectives into our constitution.

But they’re failing. The ban’s second sentence has made for an incredibly broad vote-no coalition, one that includes conservatives. Many, like Assemblyman Gregg Underheim, believe the constitution exists to protect individuals from government intrusion, not to foster it. Other conservatives believe we should support stable families, and that's precisely why they oppose making life more difficult for gay families.

Faith communities are with us too. While congregants differ on the issue of marriage equality, thousands agree that the second sentence is unjust and unfair. Many Christians know gay families as their fellow congregants. They see first-hand how this ban will harm the people they respect and love. Regional faith organizations representing over 500,000 congregational members have passed resolutions against the ban. They are compelled to take a stand on an issue that is not necessarily easy for them because it's so clear that the ban is wrong.

Labor unions too have looked seriously at the language. They’re pointing out that the second sentence could take bargaining rights away from working families. We’re talking about health insurance policies that have already been negotiated and adopted for public employees, including at the La Crosse School District, the City of Madison, and the City of Milwaukee, as well as future contracts.

And seniors are a force against the ban. According to the 2000 U.S. Census there are 109,735 unmarried non-gay couples in Wisconsin; thousands are senior couples who never married or chose not to remarry after the death of a spouse. Legal protections such as medical decision-making and financial powers of attorney will be vulnerable to legal challenges if the ban passes. The Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups has been especially vigilant in its opposition.

Wisconsinites from all different walks of life can agree this amendment goes too far.


At 10:09 PM, Blogger David Schowengerdt said...


I think you're a great writer and express the impacts of this ban in human terms really well.

I have to say, though, that when you say things like "Are the objectives of the first sentence really so urgent that we should approve a 50 percent flawed amendment into the governing document of our great state," it sounds as though you believe the first sentence of the ban is fine and dandy.

At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're swinging hard, but I think you're too worried about being liked to really hit the thing and connect solidly.

Like David, some things you wrote jump out at me. Fairer to say "some seniors are a force against the ban" or "Some faith communities are with us too"? And, "They are compelled to take a stand on an issue that is not necessarily easy for them because it's so clear that the ban is wrong." ?? The moral fairness argument again?
I fear you may be preaching to the choir, so to speak, more than answering the actual question on reason, hoping to get people to us because other groups do. Do we win if the amendment passes and we are good losers? No because they'll only approve of some of us, that can conform and are like them.

Argue the economics angle. What is this litigation nonsense going to cost the state? No offense, but there's a mindset I think you're missing. It's more practical, and less "caring" about the fairness to our partner/gf's and not so much interested in what the churches say either. Hit them up with at least one answer targeted to this more practical, less emotional or fairness-oriented group. What is it going to cost and what are we paying to get? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Keep the courts and the politics out of a non-problem, because if we don't.... it will cost all of us, and this group can care more about that than all the same sex families they don't personally know. I hope his makes sense and is constructive criticism. Picture reaching someone harder, and not to win them with sympathy or kindness for us once they get to know us better, but to convince them that it's dumb right now to spend the state money in this manner. Because if it passes, the
litigation is coming. So who cares if you give a damn in theory about gay rights, vote your pocketbook in November. This is an asinine legislative move, more political pandering than a true state priority. Look at the future costs folks, and where that money will come from. You want to spend it that way? Look at what these campaigns are costing already (then lay out your expenditure costs as one side of this campaign), and that is private contributions being spent, not state funds... yet, as it would be for the litigation should the amendment pass. Then maybe try to fairly estimate what it would cost the state if it does pass and needs to be further defined? That is a way to reach people who think about more than doing what is practical than politely "right", like some non church going men.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hoping to get people to LIKE us

At 8:59 AM, Blogger Ingrid Ankerson said...

Hi David, Good point. I probably should have said "Are the objectives of the first sentence really so urgent that ANYONE should approve a 50 percent flawed..."

I personally don't agree with any of the ban, but there are so many people who would vote "yes" on the first part, and "no" on the second. My point, of course, was why should these people vote for it if they don't 100% agree with it.

Anon,I agree with you on the economic impact-- I don’t know if that really addresses the question, but I’ll keep your suggestions in mind.

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Jenn said...

The truth is, Ingrid, David and Anon are ALL correct--there's so many angles to pursue this from. I think we should all pick the angle that speaks to us most and hit it hard in blog posts and letters to the editor so more people hear a multitude of arguments as to why this ban is wrong. For some the moral argument hits home; for some, it's all about the money. For me, it's about the benefits for families. The more diverse our approaches the more people we'll speak to.


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