Monday, September 11, 2006

Facts vs. Fear

This morning, we ran across a column written by Emily Hartwig for the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student newspaper, The Spectator, in favor of the constitutional amendment banning civil unions and gay marriage.

At first, I was outraged. I have been on the job as the Statewide Campus Coordinator for Fair Wisconsin - working with UW schools outside of the Madison and Milwaukee areas - for about three weeks now, and this is the first sign of support for the ban on these campuses. Of course, I know some students are going to vote for the ban and some may even organize efforts to oppose us, yet this was the first time opposition was hitting home, on my turf.

I challenge you to try and make your way through the convoluted and often incoherent arguments being made, touching on a range of issues, from voting for precedence because 20 other states have passed similar discriminatory amendments, to a religiously flawed argument against fairness. Here is an excerpt from the article that I'd like to share with you:

We have a clear-cut choice. Vote yes and agree with 20 other states in clarifying traditional marriage.

Or vote no and open the floodgates for challenges to current marriage laws.

Though Wisconsin statutes refer to husband and wife when discussing marriage, nowhere does it define these terms as man and woman. We need to clarify this so future lawsuits don't weaken our interpretation of the law.

Right now, many see this amendment as an attack on same-sex partnerships. But it's actually just what it is titled - a marriage protection amendment.

Now, I can appreciate educating students when these arguments are made. That's probably why my anger after initially reading the article turned into a sense of hope - an opportunity to have a discussion with students on our campuses about the far-reaching consequences this kind of ban will impose.

Hartwig argues that we have a choice. That, for a fact, is true. We have a choice - but the options she presents are skewed. Insisting that Wisconsin should follow the lead of other states - states that are just now realizing the harmful effects of their amendments - is a mistake. In Ohio, for instance, domestic violence cases are being dismissed because a relationship between a woman and her abusive boyfriend is "substantially similar to marriage" - a relationship that is not recognized by the state following its own constitutional amendment. Is this the kind of precedent we are willing to follow? Flawed policy passed by the legislature and voters because they didn't realize what the amendment was actually going to do?

Hartwig is also right in claiming that many see this amendment as an attack on same-sex partnerships. It most certainly is. But it's also an attack on our unmarried, straight friends, affecting basic rights such as health care, medical decision-making, and already-established domestic partnership benefits. Wisconsin students can clearly see this isn't about protecting marriage. If it were about protecting marriage, we would see proponents of the ban trying to change the laws governing divorce and separation. This is about writing discrimination into our constitution against those who choose not to get married - or are barred from getting married - and prohibit those people from receiving the same benefits, rights, and privileges that are offered to married partners.

And creating a social "fear" of what may happen if we don't act now to protect marriage is a strategy that those on the other side of this debate are using, and we as students need to stand together to clarify this so-called marriage amendment. We are not instilling fear - we are simply giving the facts.

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