When students vote on Nov. 7, they are going to find more than just the names of political candidates on the ballot. They will be voting on an issue that could significantly affect our state constitution and way of life much more than many people truly understand.
The proposed ban on civil unions and marriage, if passed, will irreparably reverse decades of sound, progressive thinking that Wisconsin is renowned for. The two-part ban will embed discrimination, bigotry, and hate directly into our state's founding text. Not only will the ban duplicate existing state law, but it will deeply threaten the rights of people regardless of their sexual orientation.
Governor Jim Doyle believes we should be working on the issues that really matter to Wisconsin families — instead of finding ways to divide people like this amendment does. And the Governor believes that we should not be writing discrimination into the state constitution.
The second part, or second sentence, of the ban will explicitly prohibit any status that is "substantially similar" to marriage, which will constitutionally outlaw all relationships commonly referred to as "civil unions." The prohibition of civil unions would extend to all unmarried couples, both gay and straight, and would most likely include a permanent ban on domestic partner benefits. Since UW-Madison already is the only Big Ten school that does not offer these benefits, passage of the ban will do nothing but damage our school's reputation and educational quality.
However, it's not clear that everyone understands the disastrous effect this amendment may have. The College Democrats fiercely oppose the ban, but the College Republicans on campus have refused to take a position. Given that the civil unions and marriage ban will be one of the most important questions facing voters on Nov. 7, we implore the College Republicans to take a stance on this issue.
In an Oct. 4 news report in The Badger Herald, College Republicans Chair Erica Christenson said that her organization has not taken a stance on the ban because they see it as "mostly religious in nature." However, this indicates that adding a constitutional ban that will dramatically affect the rights our state affords its citizens is nothing but a private religious choice. If the ban is "mostly religious in nature," then our state constitution must be some sort of sweeping religious document. Is that how separation of church and state is supposed to function?
Republicans across the country — including those in Wisconsin — hardly ever use religion as an excuse for not taking a stance on an issue. Rather, the Party that has been known for its mantra of "God, guns and gays" uses religion to shape its positions on an increasingly wide range of issues. Republican opposition to embryonic stem cell research, hostility toward women's reproductive rights, and support for pharmacists' personal views taking precedence over doctors' medical decisions — these are all matters in which religion dictated the Republican stance. President Bush supported a ban like this at the federal level. And Congressman Mark Green, who sides with Bush 92 percent of the time, also publicly favors the ban. Even if the proposed ban is a religious issue for most Republicans, as Ms. Christenson claims, why can't the College Republicans take a stance?
As I mentioned above, Wisconsin has a proud, progressive legacy — we were one of the first states to reject the fugitive slave laws, our environmental commitment led to the creation of Earth Day, and government ethics reform was spearheaded here in the early 20th century. But more than just history compels opposition to this ban. It's simply the right thing to do. Defeating this discriminatory and alienating ban is the civil rights issue of our generation. Taking a stance opposing the ban protects the rights of our fellow citizens at the time they need us most.
So, I ask the College Republicans, on the pages of this paper, to take a stance on the proposed civil unions and marriage ban. Republicans in the state Legislature put this ban on the ballot, and the leading campus political groups need to take a stance to show how they'll be voting at the polls, to get more students involved in the political process, and to improve the public dialogue on campus. If a political group cannot even explain why a political and electoral issue appears on the ballot, perhaps that issue should not be on the ballot at all. Tell the College Republicans how you feel as students and as citizens of Wisconsin. Go to www.theamendmentstand.com and have your voice heard.
Three weeks from today, the voters on this campus and across Wisconsin will take a stance at the voting booth. Governor Doyle, the UW Board of Regents, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, the College Democrats — we all oppose this discriminatory ban. College Republicans … where do you stand?
Eli Lewien is the Chair of the UW-Madison College Democrats.