In The News
COMMENTARY: Some straight talk on that gay ballot question
By Dominique Paul Noth, Editor
Milwaukee Labor Press
Oprah, Letterman, Angelina, Tom Cruise, Goldie Hawn, Susan Sarandon, Mark Wahlberg, Heath Ledger – after rattling off these names, my waggish email friend in an Eastern state pointed out that not a one was gay, many are respected parents “and while I don’t think any of them would rush to domicile in your fair state, or spend their considerable income there, your citizens are making them think twice about even flying over Wisconsin.”
He was jibing me about the permanent change to the state constitution offered on the November 7 ballot. It states: “A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”
I’m not losing any sleep over these celebrities. (Except maybe Oprah, who has roots here.)
I think of the widower and the divorcee in my neighborhood who found each other in their 50s, share bed and benefits and aren’t married because their adult children oppose it out of feelings for the departed parents.
Or the seniors who found each other in a retirement village. Or the many parents I know who don’t want their son or daughter to marry, feeling their grandchildren’s future will be better if the couple lives together to work out career and direction.
I’m thinking of the businesses that would refuse to locate here or will even move out if this became law.
Here are politicians telling families how to live their lives and what lifestyle choices they should make. And here are families upon families that make such decisions for themselves and want the state to stay out of it.
Looking at the range of diverse and often successful family living arrangements out there, I see no earthly reason for the voters to step into this. Particularly with a ballot sentence so vague that judges and lawyers shudder over the unintended consequences.
What kind of cases could now come before them? How would this affect probate, domestic abuse, child support, medical decisions, taxpayer safety-net costs, domestic-benefit contracts and a range of other issues? It is likely to be negative, topsy-turvy and upsetting — whatever your politics.
The celebrity example has one validity if you think about it. Rich people, gay or straight, will decide on their lifestyle regardless. They can afford to pay what they want to live as they and their families like. So here is yet another law from the autocratic extremists that puts huge financial obstacles and confusions in front of those who can least afford it, including their own neighbors and fellow parishioners.
Of course, you may not realize this sentence is on the ballot, since most of the discussion of the mandatory constitutional change has focused on the first sentence:
“Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”
That sentence, bizarrely, changes very little, redefining marriage from the current husband and wife to man and woman: It doesn’t say as it should “gay marriage is already banned.”
Psychologically, the first sentence opens the door wide to transsexual couples (doesn’t say anything about being born man or woman). It validates our welcome to any heterosexual who spends $50 on a Las Vegas marriage license for a string of one-night but legal couplings.
That first sentence doesn’t address the runaway divorce rate that makes so many suspicious of the current institution of marriage. It doesn’t touch teen pregnancies (though that second sentence certainly does negatively, since it could limit financial and familial support). It doesn’t affect ceremonial or sacramental marriage (defined by each religious group) and doesn’t alter any marriage license issued in this state.
It is meant to explicitly demean and reject homosexual partnerships. It is another effort to impose legal punishment on what some believe is religious sin – just as they once thought marriage among races was a sin (read the history of our miscegenation laws), or drinking was a sin (prohibition) or giving women the right to vote was against the will of God. And they want to lock that punishment in before biology proves anything different.
In the real world, it won’t affect people’s choices or imperatives. It just imposes more financial and social burdens on families and taxpayers.
Only on some abstract religious level, or personal bigotry, can the average citizen feel injured or threatened by homosexual couples. But the amendment would state loudly that Wisconsin society is not interested in caring families or human circumstances but wants to hammer home a division that even ministers have a dilemma sorting out.
Future generations of citizens may do better approaching the issue with scientific and social understanding, justice and compassion, so the amendment is really a cynical effort to impede such change.
As despicable as the first sentence is to the homosexual community, the second sentence extends the war to everyone struggling how best to maintain family. Heterosexuals without a marriage license are in equal trouble.
Proponents have engaged in a defense of these two sentences that is ludicrous as well as hypocritical. The change is needed, they say, to prevent some “activist” liberal judge from expanding the definition of marriage to cover homosexuals. Yet in most states those liberal judges have said husband and wife or man and woman are equally clear in intent and language.
And can we also speak truth about activist judges? Most these days are conservative, given the political climate. Their construction is hardly strict – it is a tangle of excuses and tortured interpretations that duck the intent of many laws they don’t philosophically agree with. They have not hesitated to stretch the original language to limit worker rights, environmental protection, voting rights, and civil liberties.
Just imagine what they could do with a loose cannon like any “legal status similar to” marriage “shall not be valid or recognized.”
Thoughtful conservatives recognize that such amendments are as much an attack on religious freedom as legal equity. John Danforth, the noted Missouri Republican and an Episcopal minister, says it would be hard to find a constitutional amendment “”sillier” than one on gay marriage and recites the history of failures in using constitutional amendments to change human behavior.
This from the senator who shepherded Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court.
These sort of laws are most associated with theocratic societies, such as Iran. They are most common when an autocratic leadership recognizes its policies are failing and tries to codify past mistakes into law.
This amendment also flies in the face of traditional Republican approaches of restricting the role of government in personal life and it slaps around the basic concept that constitutions in the US protect and recognize human rights rather than narrow them.
But this amendment is in one American tradition – misdirection. That’s what political parties do when they sense their candidates are in trouble and their base is rebelling. Put something on the ballot that has nothing to do with good government but can agitate the base.
Well, this should certainly activate the conservative base – into opposition. Read those two sentences again – this is not mainly about gay marriage. It is an intrusion on personal family decisions.