Guest Post on Civil Unions

We're lucky to have a lot of great summer interns working on our campaign. One of those interns is Lesley who has been working as our Faith Outreach Associate. She is originally from Waukesha and spent five years, including her college years, in Madison. Since 2004 she has been attending Vermont Law School.

Today she wrote this guest post:

I am a true Wisconsinite at heart and never realized how much I display my Wisconsin pride until living in Vermont and receiving playful smiles every time I wear bright red or a giant “W” to Contracts or Evidence. I enjoy the many times someone mentions my Wisconsin pride and I take advantage of every opportunity I can to talk about how great it was to grow up here.

I have a unique perspective on the proposed ban on civil unions and marriage because Vermont legalized civil unions in 2000. There is pride amongst many Vermont citizens for being a role model in the fight against discrimination, but it is also important to note that there was a certain amount of controversy when civil unions came into law.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled on a case brought by same-sex couples challenging a denial of a marriage license. The Vermont Constitution contains a Common Benefits Clause that states that the benefits and protections provided by the government are intended for the betterment of the whole community and not merely certain members of that community. (Vt Const. Ch. I, Art. 7)

The Court interpreted this to mean that the benefits and protections granted through marriage cannot be denied to same-sex couples and only guaranteed to opposite-sex couples. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the legislature did not have to grant “marriage” to same-sex couples, but they did have to devise a way to grant the same benefits and protections. Thus, the birth of civil unions.

There was an initial backlash by members of the community. A common sight while driving were signs stating, “Take Back Vermont.” Some legislators lost their seats after the enactment of civil unions; Democrats lost the majority in the House. However, with the next election cycle in November 2004, Vermonters elected an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Also, the Vermont constitution requires that justices who want to maintain their seat have to be “retained” every six years. This retention vote was held in 2005 and every Supreme Court justice involved in the civil unions ruling was retained with little to no debate.

I started living in Vermont in the fall of 2004. Since then, I have only seen perhaps two “Take Back Vermont” signs or bumper stickers. The civil union issue seems moot because it does not hurt the community, it enhances the community. The government has chosen to support families and to encourage loving, committed relationships. I’m incredibly proud to earn my legal degree from a state that has set itself apart from the rest as an example of fairness and justice.

And now, I’m incredibly hopeful that I can feel the same kind of pride about my home state. Shamefully, the civil rights of minorities are repeatedly abused as a political tool for manipulating the public. Wisconsin has an amazing opportunity to prove itself as a defender against discrimination. We have an opportunity to join our voices through the ballot box as a resounding "No" on the ban on civil unions and marriage. We have an opportunity to make our children proud, our grandchildren proud, and future citizens of Wisconsin proud because they live in a state that made a stand for what is right and just. We have an opportunity to be a beacon of social justice and fairness.

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At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Todd said...

Thanks Lesley, This is great. I too love Wisconsin, but I sure do envy you your Vermont fall.

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Julie said...

You never cease to make me proud. You're a true role model, and you make it seem so easy. Yet I know how hard you really work for the things you care about. Admirable. Here's one straight girl for a fair Wisconsin. Another hopeful out there wanting another reason to be proud of her state.

At 8:44 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I'm hopeful that when we defeat this ban in Wisconsin, we can then push for civil union recognition at a minimum, full marriage equality ideally.



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