Wisconsinites: Vote absentee and reject discrimination

A proposed ban on civil unions and marriage in Wisconsin necessitates the absentee votes.

Abby Bar-Lev

One of the most exciting and crucial times of the year is approaching: Election Day. If you are originally from Wisconsin – as over 6,000 of us are at the University – I urge you to request an absentee ballot as soon as possible, and cast your vote in the Wisconsin election. With a proposed constitutional ban on civil unions and marriage on Wisconsin’s ballot this November, there is too much at stake for Wisconsin to lose any votes.

However despicable an elected official might be, voters can replace him or her in the next election cycle. It is not nearly as simple or commonplace to repeal an amendment to the state constitution. It is a long and slow task. And while it is likely beyond the capability of a singular congressperson to make drastic, irreversible changes in one term, the dangerous ramifications of Wisconsin’s proposed constitutional ban on civil unions and marriage would be felt throughout the state immediately and yield lasting effects.

Aside from writing discrimination into the Wisconsin Constitution by banning gay marriage (which is already illegal in the state), the amendment reaches far wider and deeper to discriminate against all unmarried couples, gay and straight.

Read the amendment carefully, and pay attention to the second sentence:

“Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”

Did you see that? Read that second part again. Not only does that second sentence foreclose gay couples from ever entering civil unions, but by banning marriage’s legal equivalent it also gravely infringes upon the existing rights of unmarried straight couples. Those existing rights include domestic partner benefits, sharing health and retirement benefits, and taking bereavement leave in the case of a death in the family.

There is no question about it – the ban will hurt Wisconsin families. Similar bans in other states have already established frightening precedents for what such a ban could really mean.

The Human Rights Campaign released a 2005 report documenting the far-reaching (and perhaps unforeseen by voters) consequences of such bans passed in other states. They reported, “Ö The consequences of these amendments and their damaging effects on all unmarried couples are becoming very clear.” In Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Utah, for example, the ban has led to governments, universities, and other public employers denying domestic partner benefits to all unmarried couples. That is thousands of citizens being stripped of their benefits.

Even more abhorrent, in Ohio and Utah – where their amendments are nearly identical to Wisconsin’s proposed amendment – domestic violence victims have had their cases dismissed in court because the women were not married to their abusive boyfriends.

It is essential that Wisconsin students at the University of Minnesota cast their ballots in Wisconsin’s election this November and vote “no” on the proposed amendment. I do not mean to undermine the significance of the Minnesota races. A referendum to amend the state constitution is rare though, and could hold severe and irreparable consequences. Even if you currently reside in Minnesota, you can still request an absentee ballot for the Wisconsin election if you remain registered to vote there. How can Wisconsinites stand by and vote somewhere else when our home state is at such a critical juncture in defining who we are and what we stand for?

The cause is urgent. It is not too late to request an absentee ballot, but you should do it as soon as possible. You can find an absentee ballot request application on the Wisconsin Secretary of State Web site. Once you mail or fax it in to your municipal clerk, you will be sent an absentee ballot in the mail. If you e-mail me, I would be happy to help out.

Of course, this issue is not just contained to Wisconsin. Although a ban has not yet reached referendum in Minnesota, state Senator Michele Bachmann (the Republican now challenging Patty Wetterling for Congress in Minnesota’s 6th district) has energetically proposed such a ban in the Senate for the past three years in a row. How Wisconsin votes this November could have reverberating results on its neighboring states and other states across the country.

Voting “no” on the proposed ban in Wisconsin will keep our constitution from being perverted by discrimination and a senseless denial of civil liberties to all unmarried couples, gay and straight. After all, a constitution that actively cherry-picks among citizens, granting rights to some and denying rights to others, holds at its core an iniquity that insults and distorts the very ideal of a constitution for the people.

For more information, visit the Fair Wisconsin campaign’s Web site at www.fairwisconsin.com, and remember to vote “no” on the ban on civil unions and marriage in Wisconsin this November.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]