The Yes Side's Media Fall Back Guy
We've been hearing from reporters, editors, and event organizers that Julaine and Company are turning down media and debate opportunities. As a result, others have stood up to take their place. Most prominent among them is Rick Esenberg, who will be debating the ban in a mock trial on Wisconsin Public Television on October 25th.
He's an attorney in Milwaukee, occasionally teaches at Marquette Law School, and has a blog called Shark and Shepherd.
At first, he seems like an odd choice for a spokesman: back in October he wrote about the second sentence, "I have to admit that I don't much like it." (How many people back an amendment to the constitution when they only like half of it? It strikes me as profoundly reckless.)
The picture becomes clearer when we note that Esenberg has begun working with the Alliance Defense Fund, which has been at the forefront in pushing bans across the country. He contributes to their blog, Constitutionally Correct.
Over the weekend, Esenberg strongly criticized the UW Board of Regents' decision to formally oppose the ban because it threatens to prevent the UW System from ever extending equal benefits to gay employees and their families.
In it, he makes a somewhat surprising argument that Wisconsin's ban won't touch partner benefits:
As to the merits, the idea that the amendment would prohibit the university from extending benefits to an employee's designated domestic partner seems to be weak. It is inconsistent with the amendment's language (giving someone health insurance does not create or recognize a status substantially similar to marriage) and is contrary to the expressed intent of the amendment's author. I know that some people take the opposing view, but it strikes me as a stretch.Not just "some people." Your colleagues, Rick.
ADF's m.o. is to go around the country chipping away at what meager gains gay families have made. Their attorneys have helped draft amendments across the country, and may very well have had a hand in drafting ours. Banning domestic partner benefits isn't peripheral to what they do: it's part of their core mission.
To sample just a few cases:
They sued (and lost) to overturn domestic partner benefits offered by the Madison School District. (There was no constitutional ban on civil unions to bolster their claims.)
After voters in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, voted to provide gay and non-gay city employees with equal benefits policies, ADF (you guessed it) sued (Plain Dealer Reporter, 2/24/04). (So much for letting the voters decide.)
They used Utah's ban to sue Salt Lake City over its domestic partner benefits.
And now they're suing Miami University, saying that Ohio's amendment renders that institution's domestic partner benefits unconstitutional. According to their press release: "Miami University's creation of 'domestic partnerships' is quite clearly in violation of the state constitution."
In addition, they've sued to take away gay families' health care in Minneapolis, Chicago, New Orleans, San Jose, and Thurston County (WA).
Moreover, they emphatically interpret these bans to deny even the slightest recognition of gay families, for whatever purpose. To ADF, giving someone health insurance absolutely does create or recognize a status substantially similar to marriage.
Michael Johnson, one of Esenberg's ADF colleagues, put their position quite clearly when talking about the impact of Louisiana's new amendment on an ongoing ADF challenge to New Orlean's domestic partner policy: "I think and would argue that a domestic partnership is, quote-unquote, substantially similar to marriage" (AP, 9/22/04).
David Langdon and Joshua Bolinger, two of Esenberg's ADF colleagues, just submitted a brief asking Ohio's Supreme Court to use that state's ban to overturn domestic violence protections for all unmarried couples. In it, they directly counter Esenberg's pre-election interpretation of the Wisconsin ban: "The focus of the second sentence of the Marriage Amendment is not on the benefits or obligations assigned to those in the relationship which is given a legal status--it is on the status itself"; and it "proscribes the very legal recognition of the relationships in the first place, for any purpose" (emphases theirs).
(Langdon helped write the Ohio amendment and is also involved in the challenge to Miami University's domestic partner policy.)
Esenberg works with an organization passionately opposed to providing gay families with any measure of fair treatment. So when he says that the Wisconsin ban wouldn't touch gay families' health care--when he offers an interpretation counter to the one put forth by ADF attorneys across the country--count me as deeply skeptical.
If our ban passes, is Esenberg saying that ADF won't sue here? Or that he won't take part in such a suit? Somehow, I doubt it.