I posted last week on Wisconsin’s anti-gay marriage amendment and the controversy that ensued after the state attorney general offered an explanation of the proposed amendment which left it up in the air whether its passage what its passage might mean for domestic partnerships, civil unions and other legal arrangements between same-sex couples and other unmarried couples in Wisconsin. Quite a discussion broke out here as well, centered around whether we should unquestioningly accept the assurances from the supporters of such amendments that they aren’t intended to and won’t affect anything but marriage, or whether at the very least it’s uncertain what effect they will have if and/or until enacted.
Basically, do they overreach or don’t they? Interestingly enough, not even all conservatives agree on that one. John over at Americablog points out that least one conservative radio host thinks the Wisconsin marriage amendment goes too far.
[I]t increasingly looks as if the GOP miscalculated: making at least three major strategic errors:
First, they overreached, by making the amendment far broader than it had to be, including a ban on civil unions and perhaps on an array of other domestic benefits.
… The constitutional amendment on the November 7 ballot reads:
“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.”
Had Republicans stopped at he first sentence, the debate would have been squarely and unambiguously on he issue of gay marriage and the amendment likely would have passed easily. But they didn’t, and that decision has shaped the current debate and changed the political dynamic.
While the first sentence is clear, straightforward, and quite specific the second sentence is far more sweeping and ambiguous, lending itself to a wide range of interpretations. The language seems to ban civil unions but does it also extend to other benefits, as well? And if so, which ones?
So, if a bona-fide conservative is asking questions, can those of us at whom these amendments are targeted be excused for asking the same questions, and not accepting the pat answers of the people supporting these amendments? If even some conservatives aren’t sure, can we be excused for having some doubts too? And given the stakes involved for us when amendments like these get passed, can we be forgiven for voting with our feet and heading for states where at least the handful of rights and protections we’ve secured various legal arrangements aren’t called into question? Can we be excused for being unwilling to “wait and see” if we end up being test cases, and for deciding the risk isn’t worth it?
All rhetorical questions, of course, that will be brushed off as “alarmist” by the folks who support these amendments. But they bear asking anyway, since there’s room for doubt.
On thing that’s striking about hearing this from a conservative, and one who — based on his remarks — seems to oppose same-sex marriage: an aversion to canceling out the possibility of some legal rights and protections for same sex couples. (He also mentions that conservatives and moderates in the state seem “lukewarm” on the amendment, possibly for similar reasons.) It brings to mind the words of the judge who initially struck down that Georgia’s anti-gay marriage amendment (and whose ruling was later reversed).
“People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place — although not marriage,” she wrote. “The single-subject rule protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote.”
That also brings to mind a poll I mentioned earlier which showed that, while a majority (56%) of Americans oppose same-sex marriage, a majority (53%) also supported allowing same-sex couples to enter into legal agreements that provide many of the same benefits as marriage. (I’m working on a post that gets into how many and which ones.) And according to another poll, the overall trend appears to be moving towards majority support of same-sex marriage.
All of that is to say that a conservative expressing doubts like this about the Wisconsin amendment is a small sign of progress. Because, as the Georgia judge pointed out, some people who earnestly oppose same-sex marriage support giving same-sex couples most of the rights and protections of marriage. That includes conservatives, and at least some of them will balk at the possibility of taking away the few protections that are currently available through legal documents that aren’t guaranteed to be recognized anyway, even before an amendment passes.
If nothing else, it just underscores that our concerns about amendments like Wisconsin’s aren’t entirely unfounded, and even people who are opposed to same-sex marriage aren’t necessarily in favor of eliminating everything else too.