November 20, 2014

LGBT Column

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

This past year alone has seen some dramatic changes that greatly affect the LGBT community. In February, legislation was proposed by Wisconsin democrats to eliminate constitutional restrictions on marriage. The Senate Joint Resolution 74 and Assembly Joint Resolution 109 aimed to eliminate the constitutional restriction in Article XIII of our state’s Constitution that states “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.” A proposed constitutional amendment of this kind requires adoption by two successive legislatures, and ratification by the people, before it can become effective. Although they failed to pass this April, these proposals started an important dialogue.

Another step in the right direction that happened this past June was Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District court for the Western District of Wisconsin’s ruling that Wisconsin’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples was unconstitutional in accordance to the federal lawsuit, Wolf v. Walker, which was filed in February. Following this ruling, 60 of 72 counties started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, however, a mere ten days later, Crabb stayed enforcement of her decision due to threat of legal action against the county clerks granting marriage licenses by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. Preceding the stay of her ruling more than 500 gay couples tied the knot; their marriages now hang in the balance.  The state appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of same-sex couples who once again argue that the refusal to recognize and allow same-sex marriages violates their constitutional rights. There are currently 92 cases pending in 33 states in federal and state courts and there are three that could potentially head to the Supreme Court, which is a reflection of the growing tide and support for a change in our current state and national laws concerning same-sex marriage. This current case could hold serious weight as more cases reach the Supreme Court, as many Supreme Court cases are decided after review of lower court decisions.

“The freedom to marry is a core aspect of personal liberty for all Americans” is a statement made by the American Civil Liberties Union who is arguing against the state of Wisconsin in the current case. The ban was voted into law through a constitutional amendment in 2006 with a 59% approval while 41% voted against it. However, since then, the tide has shifted so dramatically that a recent poll released by Marquette University Law School shows that 56% of Wisconsinites would vote to repeal the state’s ban on gay marriage.  This is just another example that demonstrates how outdated our legislation is and how unconcerned Republicans in power are with the concerns and opinions of Wisconsin residents. The time to take action to ensure the equal rights and respect of ALL of our citizens is now. We can no longer wait around for Republicans to come to our side; we must fight for the equality we all deserve.

During October, it is important to reflect on the struggles those before us faced when they attempted to live truthfully. Those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and/or Transgender, have historically faced an appalling amount of discrimination and violence. The time for an end to discrimination is past due. In protecting the human rights of LGBT people, it is our obligation to protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence, prevent torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people.

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