Friday, March 13, 2009

Column for Dane101: Gay Marriage in Wisconsin

I write a column for a local blog called Dane101, which focuses on issues pertaining to Dane County, Wisconsin. I will be posting my columns periodically on this blog as well, but do check out their site too. It's chock-full of goodies for Dane County residents. Gay Marriage in Wisconsin

Last week, the California Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the legitimacy of Proposition 8, the voter-based initiative that placed a ban on gay marriage within the state. At issue was whether or not the will of the majority could define rights over protections afforded to the minority.

Such a question could potentially be posed in our own neck of the woods as well: In 2006, Wisconsin voters decided to approve a ban on gay marriages and civil unions within the state.

In Wisconsin, to amend the constitution requires a lengthier yet similar process. First, a measure must be brought before and passed by the state legislature. That measure must then wait until the next legislative session – two full years – which must also approve of it. Finally, the measure is put before a vote of the people, who decide either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to pass it.

Despite the longer time, at no point is there any requirement for a supermajority to protect the minority against the forces of mob rule, as is the model for the federal constitution. It’s very easy, therefore, to actually amend Wisconsin’s constitution (especially when you consider that legislators already represent the opinions of their constituents who eventually vote on the matter).

The fact that a tyranny of the majority exists within our state’s legal framework is only one reason to oppose the ban on gay marriage within Wisconsin. Another reason for opposition rests in the fact that those who support the ban have no legal justification outside of religious belief or tradition that says homosexuality is wrong. Gay marriage, however, can’t and won’t cause “harm” to anyone, will not “lessen” the marriage of anyone else, or force any church to perform any ceremony it doesn’t want to perform.

Who does benefit from legalizing gay marriage? Obviously, gay and lesbian couples who want a deeper, more meaningful commitment towards one another, the way straight couples do; and that should be reason enough to convince anyone with a heart. But, to those who think only in terms of money, there is also an economic benefit: Couples seeking recognition and marriage benefits wouldn’t move to states that provide them, keeping much-needed tax dollars in a state that’s already facing economic hardships.

Let’s evaluate our reasoning for disallowing gay marriage, from a conservative viewpoint: First, we have the “morality” argument, driven by a religious belief that homosexuality is sinful. By that standard, we’d have a laundry list of things we DO permit that we’d then have to remove due to biblical standards, including shaving and grooming of facial hair and the eating of shellfish (not to mention our willingness to start wars).

Second, we have the argument that homosexual relationships don’t lead to natural births. But again, that argument ignores key facts, among them the fact that straight couples who are incapable of having children, too, are allowed to wed.

Finally, there is also the argument that allowing gay marriage will lead to abuse in the system; that straight men or women will marry a member of the same sex simply to receive the benefits a marriage would grant them. That argument is moot, however, for two reasons: first, “marriages of convenience” already exist within the current system of marriage, and second, our government is perfectly content with recognizing such relationships as legitimate.

There are many reasons why gay marriage should be kept banned within our state, but those reasons are derived from a religious point of view. Churches or other religious institutions that carry out marriage ceremonies, then, shouldn’t perform such ceremonies. But the state should look beyond the religious rationale and consider the reasons why gay marriage would benefit our society, as well as protect the minority’s rights and wishes. If there isn’t a legitimate reason to ban gay marriage in Wisconsin, then the ban should be lifted.

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