Monday, June 9, 2014

Holy crap! We have marriage equality!

I went up to a certain shindig in the Dells on Friday night, and while I was there, I saw the news that Wisconsin joined the 2010s when a federal judge ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. This was great to see, as I believe this state has suffered over the last 3 years with an image of being a backwards place that elects college dropouts and devalues a sizable amount of its citizens.

Immediately, couples in Dane and Milwaukee Counties dashed to the local courthouse to tie the knot Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, encouraged by County officials in both places. The timing was very interesting to me personally, as my wife and I celebrated our 1-year anniversary yesterday, and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell signed our marriage license just like he signed many others this weekend. Knowing that these couples can now share in the "joy" of marriage doesn't do anything to cheapen my marriage - in fact, I believe it strengthens it.

1. The next steps that followed Federal Judge Barbara Crabb's decision started today, as GOP Attorney General J.B.(aka D-B) Van Hollen asked to stay her decision pending an appeal to the next level. Judge Crabb said she wasn't quite feeling where DBVH was going on this, and declined to give the AG what he (and by proxy Scott Walker) wanted. In this case, the group wanting same-sex couples to be able to marry are the "plaintiffs" and Van Hollen and Walker and those defending the ban are the "defendants".
I understand defendants’ concern that some county clerks have been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since I issued the June 6 decision, but that is not a result of an injunction by this court. Thus, if defendants believe that a particular county clerk is issuing a marriage license in violation of state law, that is an issue outside the scope of this case.

Plaintiffs have represented to the court that they will provide language for a proposed injunction today. In doing so, plaintiffs should take care to identify what they want each defendant to do. Under Fed. R. Civ. 65, plaintiffs must identify the particular acts they want defendants to perform or refrain from performing. Nuxoll ex rel. Nuxoll v. Indian Prairie School Dist. #204, 523 F.3d 668, 675 (7th Cir. 2008) (under Rule 65, injunction “must contain a detailed and specific statement of its terms”).

It is clear enough what plaintiffs want the county clerks to do, which is issue marriage licenses. From previous briefs, it is also relatively clear what plaintiffs want defendant Anderson (the state registrar) to do, which is to amend the state marriage forms in accordance with his authority under Wis. Stat. § 765.20(1) so that the forms are inclusive of same-sex couples. However, it is still unclear what specific acts plaintiffs want defendants Walker and Van Hollen to perform or refrain from performing. It is not enough to say that defendants should be enjoined from enforcing unconstitutional laws without identifying the particular acts involved in that enforcement.
In essence, Crabb is telling the ACLU and others in favor of marriage equality to explain what they want the state officials to be kept from doing (i.e., not recognizing same-sex married couples on legal forms, not having to formally pass an approval of same sex marriage? Etc.). The decision leaves it up to the local governments as to whether they wish to allow same-sex couples to marry, and as of tonight, several counties throughout the state have decided to do so. This means that the WisGOP forces would not only have to win their appeal of Judge Crabb's decision, but they would then have to go through the process of invalidating all these marriages. Good luck getting the public on your side with that attitude, WisGOP, judging from the numbers from the most recent Marquette University poll on the issue.
In this poll, we asked voters both the older three-option question and the two-option version phrased, “Do you favor or oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally?”

The older item was asked early in the interview, while the new two-option item was asked some 19 questions later. With the three-option question, 49 percent support marriage, 25 percent support civil unions and 18 percent prefer no legal recognition. When offered only two options, 55 percent favor allowing marriage while 37 percent oppose marriage and 6 percent say they do not know. Of those originally favoring civil unions on the three-part question, 26 percent shift to supporting marriage on the two-option question while 65 percent say they oppose marriage and 8 percent say they don’t know.

2. So why the change in recent years? Scott Wittkopf chalks up some of it to the power of language helping to change people's minds in the marriage equality debate.
Prior to a decade ago, as many in the LGBT community will recall, the issue of gay marriage was a “gay rights” issue. Professor Lakoff, cognitive scientist at UC-Berkeley met with the organizers in California. The organizers had conducted extensive research on how to message the gay marriage issue, and Lakoff encouraged them to do what they instinctively thought was effective framing of the issue. Lakoff encouraged them to stop talking about “gay rights” and “gay marriage” (the issue) and focus on why the issue is moral (values). Fortunately, they followed their hearts – literally.

The issue of “gay marriage” in the progressive frame is about love and freedom. That is how public discourse was changed so quickly. People, even those who consider themselves conservative in one way or the other (unless they are sociopaths), are capable of empathy for others. Communicating over and over again about “love” and “freedom,” in the context of gay marriage, reinforced and activated the progressive moral frame – and inhibited the conservative frame – in millions of people across the country. This is, quite simply, how public discourse changed. It is also how progressives can continue actively changing public discourse in Wisconsin.
When properly defined as "marriage EQUALITY" and "FREEDOM to marry", the issue becomes viewed differently than "GAY rights". And it's a more accurate terminology as well, because these rights aren't only given to gay people, it merely gives them the same rights to marriage that heterosexual couples have always had.

3. I'd also argue that the antics of Republicans in the 2000s also moved sentiment on the issue. Many state legislatures passed their bans not as much because of overriding fear about what allowing gays to marry would do, but as a cynical "divide and conquer" ploy to drive up GOP voting totals among fundies and old people. This playing of politics with people's rights also led people like me to be more in favor of marriage equality, even if I was squeamish on the "marriage" idea 10 years ago, because I recognized these bans as the bullshit political act that it was.

In Wisconsin, this tactic backfired on the GOP, even though a majority voted for the same-sex marriage ban. Many younger voters were angered by the issue being on the ballot in 2006, and it drove higher turnout among a group that doesn't always vote much in midterms. It helped Jim Doyle win a second term as Governor, helped give the State Senate to the Dems, as Eau Claire's Dave Zien and other GOP legislators lost seats that included college towns, and started turning a 60-39 GOP Assembly into a Dem-controlled body over the next 2 elections. The GOP Senate Leader that helped get the ban into law in 2006 was Dale Schultz, but he indicated today that he would not do the same thing in 2014.
Laws that demoralize, discriminate and dehumanize fellow Americans simply for being who they are require reexamination.

I would like to think that we, as a society, possess a willingness and ability to evolve when presented with new facts and evidence.

I think most often the greatest effect on a political cause isn’t a rally, protest, petition or even a vote. The most effective results come from the relationships we build and possess with those around us.

Over the last decade those relationships have been made stronger and better because of the courageousness of those we already knew stepping forward to be who they are. That has had a true effect, and today a majority of Wisconsinites support marriage equality largely because of someone we know.
I think Schultz is correct on that, and it's a place where I do credit Facebook and other social media, as a lot of people found out that "everyday folks" they hung around with were gay, and/or favored marriage equality, and it becomes a lot harder to be bigoted against people you know and respect.

Going forward, I dare Gov Walker and AG Van Hollen to keep wasting taxpayer money by fighting Judge Crabb's decision. In fact, why doesn't our "uninitimidated" Governor run on keeping gays from getting married this November? Oh wait, Scotty's ducking the issue any way he can and trying to erase his past approval of such a ban, and he's doing so because favoring the ban is a guaranteed loser in the statewide polls. But he needs the fundies and the haters in order to win. Uh oh! Sounds like quite the conundrum.

It's a lot nicer being on the side of justice and decency, isn't it? Makes for a much less stickier situation as time moves on. Even if there are a few court battles that may need to be completed on this issue, the prospect of having marriage equality in Wisconsin is a bright light that indicates maybe, after a whole lot of darkness and disgust in the 2010s, we're finally seeing something go in the right direction in this state.

1 comment:

  1. In the RSS feed I saw "20 counties" and here it's "several" :) Between the MJS and, there are 26 counties that both lists agree upon (comprising 62% of Wisconsin's population); they disagree about the status of Ashland.

    The AP is reporting 42 counties and Sheboygan County isn't on either of the above lists but is issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

    68% of the population live in one of the 36 counties that are affirmed in either list, or Sheboygan.

    The Wausau Daily Herald has this map showing 44 counties comprising 72% of the population, but it does disagree with the other sources in places.

    So it's still a messy picture, and not just the legal aspects of it. But it does seem that the residents of somewhere north of 40 counties and about 70% of the population have clerks prepared to issue marriage licenses equally. Hopefully it'll be 72 & 100% soon.