Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gay Marriage Doublespeak

The Wisconsin State Senate today for the second time passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The amendment now goes to the Assembly, which is expected to approve it, then it goes to the public for a vote, most likely in November of 2006.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether gay marriage should be recognized or not, but a line of argument being used by the Democrats strikes me as particularly puzzling. On the one hand, they argue that marriage is already defined in state law as between a man and woman (actually, it is not - marriage is defined as being between a "husband" and "wife"), so the amendment is duplicative. In the same breath, they argue that the amendment is bigoted and mean-spirited.

So if the amendment reflects current law, why is it so mean spirited and bigoted to codify it in the state constitution? Is current law then mean spirited and bigoted? If so, why aren't they trying to repeal the current legal definition of marriage? Incidentally, I would love to call their bluff and bring that bill to a vote, just to see 90% of Democrats vote against it.

This line of argument is reflected beautifully in a statement made by Attorney General candidate Kathleen Falk, when she said:

"This proposed amendment is unnecessary and divisive. Traditional marriage is already protected by Wisconsin statutes. This amendment attacks the many law-abiding Wisconsin citizens who seek to preserve or create legally valid protections for their long-term partners and, in many cases, for their children."

So an amendment that affirms current law is an "attack" on law abiding citizens? So is marriage between a man and a woman, or is it not? This from someone that wants to be the state's top attorney? (Incidentally, this column was written by John Nichols, who actually believes somehow that the referendum will fail when it comes to a full vote of Wisconsin citizens. Good luck with that one, John. Can you say "65%?")

Of course, opponents are arguing that the section of the bill that prohibits legal recognition of "substantially similar" relationships will prohibit domestic partners from receiving benefits. As I understand it, this hasn't been the case in other states that have passed similar constitutional amendments. The amendment only deals with legal recognition - it doesn't say anything about how benefits are distributed, etc. Governments can give out benefits based on virtually any criteria they want, as long as taxpayers are willing to pay for it. The private insurance market won't be affected in any way. Arguments about denial of hospital visitation and other issues are complete red herrings, as those are addressed in hospital policy and private contracts.

I was also amused by State Senators Dave Hansen and Roger Breske switching their votes this session from "yes" in 2003 on the amendment to "no" in 2005. As you may know, Hansen and Breske are both from competitive districts with heavy Catholic populations which overwhelmingly favor the amendment. The difference between now and then? They were both up for election in 2004. Amazing how some elected officials treat the wishes of their constituents when they don't actually need their votes anymore, isn't it?

That all being said, I actually think the advocates of gay marriage do make some valid points. I believe Action Wisconsin is 100% right when they criticize divorced elected officials when they trot out the old "sanctity of marriage" line. I guess I'm still too naive and simplistic when I believe that marriage should be preserved at nearly any cost.

And while I think "gay marriage" is an oxymoron, I don't feel particularly threatened by domestic partnerships. In a time when supposed "legitimate" relationships are producing unwanted children in broken homes with single parents, I don't know that going after other productive partnerships is really all that much of a priority.

The only problem is that the definition of "marriage" as it has been understood for all of humanity is now being twisted around by unelected judges with no constituency. The amendment as passed by the Legislature will give citizens of the state a chance to have a say in how they define marriage (although I'm betting even a constitutional amendment will be found by a federal judge to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause.)

One final note: The fact that some groups are claiming that the amendment will invalidate domestic violence laws between nonmarried individuals is proof that these days, you can say absolutely anything and someone will believe it.

And by the way, when you signed up for Planned Parenthood, did you think you were getting this?

UPDATE: I just caught some local news that pointed out that the amendment might prevent some heterosexual unmarried couples from sharing benefits (it will not). But if it did, so what? Should we be spending taxpayer dollars to pay for the benefits of some guy shacking up with a female UW employee? If an insurance company is paying for unwed straight couples to share benefits, either your premiums or your taxes are too high. Is this a ploy to make same sex domestic partner benefits seem more reasonable? If so, it worked.