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?
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.