Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hundreds sound off on gay marriage - AP

I testified at the hearing yesterday described below. Other attorneys covered the constitutional issue effectively, so I focused on the effects on Wisconsin business.

Here is a summary of my remarks:

An amendment that prevents these businesses from deciding what benefits they choose to offer (which would be prohibited by the second sentence of the proposed amendment), would discourage businesses from relocating to Wisconsin. It would also prohibit current businesses from being able to offer the benefits that they choose; disenfranchising current employees.

Attracting young talent to Wisconsin will be more difficult in the face of a marriage discrimination amendment. Wisconsin is known for its excellent public universities (I am a proud product of Madison's law school), but we have suffered from significant "brain drain" here in Wisconsin with 52,000 college graduates leaving the State in the 1990's. A same sex marriage ban would advance the significant loss of young professional talent in Wisconsin because most people under 34 support marriage or civil unions for gay couples. Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon professor, economic development expertand pioneer of the young professional movement, researched this issue and found that geographic areas that demonstrate diversity and tolerance of gay people are more likely to attract high-tech industries and employees to support those industries.

In summary, I will be a future business owner in Wisconsin. I do not want the Legislature to move forward on an amendment which, if passed, will prevent me from offering the benefits that I choose for my employees. Also, I, like most small business people, are able to be more financially viable if the community around me is doing better financially, so I am deeply concerned by a proposal that will tell business that Wisconsin shuts its door to progressive benefits and homosexual employees.

It is no secret why the same sex marriage amendment is being put on the ballot to coincide with the election for Governor. The Republican Legislature hopes to bring out voters on this issue to encourage support for their candidate. I vote based on the candidate and have never joined a party, nor voted the party line in an election. I can tell you that playing politics with the lives of Wisconsin families and with Wisconsin business interests is ugly politics and something that is offensive to me. Such action does not encourage me to weigh a Republican candidate for governor on his or her merits; I would be inclined to dismiss such a candidate out of hand. I expect as knowledge of this political scheme moves forward in the next twelve months that many moderate voters will share my perspective.

Associated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Ray Vahey and Richard Taylor have been in love for almost 50 years. They share meals, an apartment, a car. What they can't share are taxes, dental insurance or Social Security benefits.

"We have yearned for a marriage recognized in America," Vahey said.

Rebekah Gantner, a home-schooled 19-year-old from Watertown, never wants to see that happen. In her book, being gay is a sin and letting homosexuals marry would tear apart society.

"If marriage became just for anyone, our society and the next generations to come aren't what it should be or what it used to be," she said.


Republican lawmakers are right with her. They're pushing an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that would ban gays like Vahey and Taylor from ever getting married.

Current state law defines marriage as a union between a man and wife, but the GOP fears judges could interpret that wording to mean gays can marry, too.

The gay community and activist groups say the amendment amounts to thinly veiled discrimination and could strip away employment benefits for same-sex couples.

Some 300 people, including Vahey, Taylor and Gantner, jammed a public hearing before the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees Tuesday to sound off on the idea. So many people showed up legislative pages had to herd them into two overflow rooms.

The scene was a virtual replay of a similar public hearing last year. The amendment must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and a statewide referendum.

The GOP-controlled Legislature easily passed the ban last year. The hearing Tuesday marked the first step toward passage this session.

Neither committee was expected to vote on the amendment Tuesday, but passage through the full Legislature is all but inevitable given that Republicans backing the measure control both the Assembly and the Senate. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle plays no role in adopting a constitutional amendment.

That means voters could see the question on the ballot in November 2006.

Nineteen other states have approved similar constitutional bans to gay marriage. Wisconsin's version defines marriage as between one man and one woman and bans any legal status "substantially similar" to marriage for people who aren't married. The amendment doesn't define such a status.

Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, questioned whether that ambiguity means employment benefits already in place for same-sex couples would be rolled back. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, the amendment's co-author, said he believes the measure wouldn't prohibit a public or private employer from offering such benefits, although a court may have to make the ultimate interpretation.

The amendment's other author, Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, said Wisconsin must adopt it after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. He said allowing such unions would force schools to teach children about alternative families, making their teen years even more confusing.

Vahey, 67, and Taylor, 80, told the committees they met in 1956.

"We've become like one in our thinking," Taylor said later. "We're part of each other."

Because they can't marry, the Milwaukee men pay more in taxes because they can't file jointly. Taylor can't share any of Vahey's work-provided insurance or pension options, and whoever outlives the other isn't entitled to share in his Social Security benefits.

Taylor fought with the U.S. Navy during World War II for the same rights as straight people, Vahey said.

"This is not 1956 and millions of (young gay people) are just beginning to build their lives as we did," Vahey said. "They will not stand for being shunned, disenfranchised and treated as second-class citizens."

Gantner, the 19-year-old from Watertown, said she was raised in a traditional home with five brothers and four sisters. Her parents taught her morality and to follow God, she said.

"They have shown me the love of both a mother and a father," she said. "A marriage is the permanent union of a male and a female who complete each other in their differences."


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