Blog Debate: Question 4 Answered
Well this is almost it. Thanks again to Owen, who has been a wonderful sparring partner. And to Jenna for a thoughtful series of questions.
Now, here’s Jenna’s final question:
I want you to sum up the strongest reasons why, in your opinion, one should vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the ban. If you were to knock on a voter’s door on November 6th, what would you want them to take into the poll with them on November 7th? What’s the message you’d like readers of the debate to remember? Feel free to draw on any of the things we’ve talked about before, or any point I’ve missed in my questions.And here’s my response.
No matter where you live in Wisconsin, someone in your community is hurt by this ban. Not only does it permanently ban marriage for your gay neighbors, coworkers, and family members, but it goes so far as to outlaw civil unions and jeopardize existing legal protections for all unmarried couples. These are people doing all the hard work of a marriage—taking care of each other, raising children, caring for aging parents—without any of the protections or obligations that keep families strong.
When I met Owen last month to discuss the logistics of this debate, we talked about his family, his wife, and his job. And he asked me about my job--he wanted to know if I was a “professional activist.”
Hardly. I’m a graphic designer who left a cushy 9-5 job with four weeks vacation and a salary just shy of twice my current wages. I’ve given up dinners with my partner Megan, reading for pleasure, gardening, vacations, and almost every other luxury I once had because defeating this ban is that important to me.
It’s that important to me because it hurts my family and because I’m a fifth-generation Wisconsinite who knows my state is better than this. I grew up believing my fellow Wisconsinites to be optimistic, friendly, good-hearted, fair-minded people.
One of my first responsibilities here was to build the Story Collection Project. Working on this is a daily reminder of just how many upstanding citizens are genuinely hurt by this ban. Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal; it’s a real slap in the face when the state you are deeply invested in--both financially and emotionally--drafts an amendment to your state’s constitution that says “you are not valued here.”
I’m grateful to have had the privilege to get to know people like Bill and Phil in Kenosha. They’re both veterans, and they've been together for 17 years--the last several of which Phil has been paralyzed. The love they share for each other is utterly inspiring.
At a celebration of our 15th anniversary in our home in 2003, I presented Phil with a Certificate of Survival for his bravery in surviving “back surgery, femur reconstruction, broken ribs, lung surgery, gall bladder surgery, bladder infection, urinary tract infection, a stroke, excruciating chronic pain and two major seizures.”There are literally thousands of couples who share similar stories--not all so difficult, thankfully. Most, frankly, are mundane (we fell in love, we committed to caring for each other, we work hard, we contribute to our communities). But the thread tying them together is an indisputable concern for the lack of basic legal protections necessary to care for our families. At no fee can any lawyer draft a document providing all of these protections.
Considering what Phil and I have endured -- and survived -- I'm still almost amused at those who fear for the sanctity of marriage.
But this November is not about legalizing gay marriage. It’s about amending our constitution to bring the legislative process to a screeching halt. It’s about taking away lawmakers’ ability to offer marriage-like protections to our state’s gay families. Owen talks a lot about what happened in Massachusetts, but this isn't a referendum on Massachusetts. It's about people living in Wisconsin.
Last weekend I traveled to Green Bay to visit my family and to door canvass in Allouez. Several people told me they don't support gay marriage but do support providing couples the rights that come with marriage. Owen thinks this “almost never” happens, but as someone on the frontline of the debate, I know it happens all the time. Most Wisconsinites recognize that gay families are already denied important protections, and they’re not ready to keep their lawmakers from offering civil unions or an equivalent.
Finally, remember this is about even more than marriage or civil unions. Owen tries to ignore or downplay the evidence of consequences in other states. But in states where these bans have passed, both gay and straight citizens are feeling the repercussions. You simply can’t deny that Michigan’s ban is being used to take away domestic partner health insurance. Or that Ohio judges have cited their ban to dismiss domestic violence charges.
I’m not making this up. These are legitimate concerns about legitimate obstacles this ban may keep in place for generations.
As much as the ban's most ardent supporters try to make this an abstract debate about marriage or courts, the truth is, it’s about people. You can’t talk about the effects of this ban without taking into account those it will most affect.
This is our constitution we’re deliberating. It’s the very fiber of our state government. The role of the constitution is to protect individuals from government intrusion--not to promote it. Megan and I, and thousands of gay families in every part of the state, harm no one. But this ban, if passed, will hurt us very much.