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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Anti-Gay Marriage and Civil Unions Amendment, the folkbum recommendation: Vote NO November 7

Shall section 13 of article XIII of the Wisconsin constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?

I'm going to be blunt here for a second: For a significant part of the "yes" crowd, this amendment is all about the butt sex. They don't like it, and this is a chance to register that disgust.

For a significant part of the "no" crowd, this is about same-sex marriage (or, perhaps, civil unions). They want it legalized, and this is a chance to register that desire.

The amendment is actually about neither of those things--if it passes, the butt sex will still be legal, and if it fails, same-sex marriage will still be illegal. Even if we get what we want, we won't get what we want.

For a small, teeny, tiny slice of people in the middle, this vote is actually about the scope of the amendment's wording, whether it's too broad and overreaching or just broad enough to stop those activist judges. It is on them--I'd guess maybe five or seven percent of voters, total--that the burden in this election falls; this amendment will succeed or fail based on their choice in the voting booth.

For me, the choice is easy. I'm part of the "no" crowd as described above; I believe there is no reason (and I have argued this exhaustively over the last two-plus years) to deny gay and lesbian couples the rights and responsibilities (and the title) granted automatically to heterosexual couples through marriage. Whatever horror stories partisans try to spin about Scandanavia or Massachusetts, no conclusive evidence exists that the sky has fallen where gay marriage is legal (see this post, for example).

For many bloggers on the right--Dad29 is a good example--the choice is easy. You know by his constant references to "homosex" marriage and his insistence that Mark Foley's predatory nature is normal for gay men that his understanding of the issues doesn't get far beyond what parts go where. And, as nice as Dad29 may be in real life, his is an attitude rooted in bias and prejudice against people who engage in that behavior--behavior which both hurts no one and, as with sex in any "heterosex" marriage, is not what truly defines a relationship worth recognizing. See, for example, this story of two men whose connection is not rooted in sex at all. But Dad29's irrational obsession with the butt sex would deny these men a satisfaction for "the need for mutual love and affection."

For Julaine Appling, the point-woman for the "yes" vote here in Wisconsin, the choice is also easy, and she is well-poised to harness the discriminatory impulses of those who hate the butt sex. Cory Liebmann has documented her ultra-discriminatory history:
Appling attended Bob Jones University in the 1970s, receiving three degrees. During the time that Appling attended Bob Jones University, they refused to admit African American students. Bob Jones started admitting married African American students in 1971 and single African American students in 1975. This is also a university whose chairman refused to fly the campus flag at half-mast when Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Chairman Bob Jones, Jr. called the civil rights leader an "apostate." The University that Appling chose to attend also banned interracial dating until 2001. Prior to that year, the University said that it would expel students who dated or married "outside their own race" or "espouse, promote or encourage others" to violate those rules.

It is clear that Julaine Appling's education at Bob Jones University is informing her thinking on discrimination. University officials held that its ban on interracial dating and marriage did not discriminate against anyone because it applied to all races equally. Compare this with a statement from Appling's organization, which, after saying that the amendment would not discriminate against anyone, continues to say the following: "all Americans have the right to marry, subject to certain conditions that apply equally"
There is a more intellectual flavor of proponent, too, the Rick Esenbergs and Owen Robinsons of the world, convinced that a yes vote is all that will save us from the courts--"black-robed mullahs," in the words of another blogger. Esenberg, in particular, has spent three of his last four posts (as of this writing) telling us how what happened in New Jersey (their Supreme Court pulled a Vermont, ordering that the state offer either marriage or civil unions to same-sex couples) is The End Of The World And Could Happen Here Any Minute Now And We Must Pass This Amendment To Protect The People From The Courts.

It's this argument that, on the one hand, is far more persuasive than people who don't like the butt sex or people who insist on forcing their religious views on the rest of us. But on the other hand, this is also the most ridiculous, since the "will of the people," which supposedly would be subverted by the courts--was subverted by the Jersey court, they say--is against the sentiment of half this amendment. Let me rephrase: Their argument is that the will of the people (as expressed, for example, by a vote on an amendment like this, or through their elected representatives) should not be overturned by a court. And if same-sex marriage were imposed, that would be the case.

But a solid majority of Wisconsinites are in favor of offering civil unions to same-sex couples: A 2004 Badger Poll (.pdf), taken when the amendment was first up for discussion, found that an amendment that made no mention of civil unions--in other words, banned only marriage--polled at 64%, well above the 53% the amendment as written polled (these results were mirrored in a St. Norbert poll earlier this year, which I haven't been able to Google up, but is referred to here). A Badger Poll from earlier this year (.pdf) found support of civil unions--outside of the context of the amendment--had support of a full 60% of Wisconsinites. If what happened in New Jersey happened here, it would finally force the legislature to confront the fact that most of us here feel that same-sex relationships do indeed deserve protection, rights, and recognition, whether we call it marriage or not. In other words, a civil unions ruling would make the legislature actually implement the will of the people--hardly the End Of The World scenario Esenberg and his ilk would have us believe.

Another, even more silly argument from that side, is that if the amendment fails, the next day there will be court cases demanding legalized same-sex marriage. I doubt that, in part because Wisconsin's law against same-sex marriage has been challenged and stood previously. But we also know from experience that even if the amendment passes, there will be court cases galore. Everyone who's honestly looked at this recognizes that the "yes" side is just as prone--if not moreso--to using the courts to get what they want. The Alliance Defense Fund, for example, already has a history of filing suit here in Wisconsin to stop same-sex partner benefits. This was the same Alliance Defense Fund tapped by John Gard and the legislature to defend the state against the suit to provide partner benefits at the UW.

Finally, it's also important to remember that this amendment, like the death penalty referrendum, relies on Republicans' belief that voters are rubes. If they really cared, they could have had this amendment on the ballot 18 months ago, but they chose to delay protecting the people from the evils of gay marriage long enough that it would boost turnout for Mark Green. In fact, some on the "yes" side were a bit giddy at the news from New Jersey, figuring it would galvanize and energize Republican voters (and they accuse us of making this partisan!).

In the end, as I said at the beginning, the vast majority of us will be voting on ths amendment not based on the subtleties and ramifications of its wording, but rather on the broader notions it represents--either we don't like the butt sex or we don't see why our gay and lesbian friends should be denied equal rights just because they're born loving differently than we do. Clearly, I fall into the latter camp, and I encourage you--even if you don't like the butt sex, even if you have been tempted by the silly arguments of the Esenberg camp--to vote no next week. An amendment denies the legislature the ability to implement the popular civil unions; an amendment provides the impetus for those who hate the butt sex to fill the courts with lawsuits for years to come.

And an amendment which denies rights to citizens has never been done before here in Wisconsin. This is not the time to start that tradition, either.

Vote no on November 7.

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