I support fairness for all people. I oppose the proposed amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that would ban civil unions and marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
In March 2004, the Wisconsin Legislature began the process of writing an unfair amendment into our state constitution. It reads, “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.” This amendment not only bans marriage for same-sex couples, but also prohibits civil unions and domestic partnerships. This amendment goes too far.
It is important to remember that if this amendment passes, it will affect real Wisconsin families. Currently, gay and lesbian couples are struggling to protect and sustain their families without many of the over 1,200 rights and responsibilities provided to married couples under federal and Wisconsin law. These include basic things like being able to visit a loved one in the hospital, sharing health and retirement benefits and taking bereavement leave in the case of a death in the family.
Injustices occur daily, whether it’s the couple who has been together for 29 years and can’t see each other after one is hospitalized with heart problems, or the mother whose daughter has had an allergic reaction to a bee sting and has to race across town to get a note from her partner — the legally recognized mother — to take their child to the hospital. The proposed amendment to our state constitution would permanently enshrine this kind of unequal treatment toward Wisconsin families at some of their most vulnerable moments.
This amendment isn’t just about gay marriage. You don’t need to support gay marriage in order to oppose the amendment. It would also ban any legal status that is “substantially similar” to marriage. This means even civil unions or domestic-partner benefits, which offer many or most of the rights of marriage, would also be banned. It goes too far.
The broad language of this amendment is so vague that it could even threaten the right of employers to offer health insurance to domestic partners of their employees. Right now, over 100 employers in Wisconsin offer such benefits, including American Family Insurance and Kimberly-Clark. Enacting this amendment could mean wasteful legal battles for them and deflated job-recruiting prospects in our state.
Our state constitution was designed to protect people, not to hurt them. Article 1 reads, “all people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights: among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This amendment abuses our constitution and attempts to deny to certain people in Wisconsin one of our three recognized essential rights.
Wisconsinites don’t want this. We don’t want our state to legalize unfair, unequal treatment. This amendment isn’t about defining marriage, it’s about preventing gay and lesbian couples and their children from having important legal protections they need to sustain their families. This amendment is wrong for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin citizens have the opportunity to play an active role in the amendment process. The proposed language, which has passed the Legislature once, must pass again this session and then go to a statewide vote. Gov. Doyle has no official role in this process — he cannot veto an amendment. It is important that citizens follow this amendment each step of the way.
Right now we need to contact our local state assembly and state senate representatives and let them know we don’t want inequality to become the law in our state. Call or e-mail your representatives from back home and urge them to vote NO on the constitutional amendment. Talk to your parents, friends, coworkers, and peers about why this amendment goes too far. Then, if this goes to a statewide ballot on April 5, please be sure to get out and vote NO on the amendment. The people in this state have a powerful voice. Let’s use it to guarantee that we’re still upholding fairness and equality as our primary values.
Elizabeth Sanger (email@example.com) is the campus chair of College Democrats.