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Election to determine fate of same-sex couples

November 2, 2006

In a united state-wide effort, residents of Wisconsin are joining together to spread the word about what the proposed marriage amendment will mean for the state of Wisconsin. This effort has been titled, A Fair Wisconsin Votes No.

This effort is not limited simply to homosexual couples or those in civil unions. Many different people and organizations have joined the effort against the marriage amendment.

The question proposed on Tuesday reads: “Marriage. Shall section 13 of article XIII of the constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?”

According to Fair Wisconsin’s Web site, “The ban goes beyond banning marriage for gay couples. It will also ban civil unions and threaten any legal protections for unmarried couples.”

If passed, the amendment would prohibit legal recognition of couples in any relationship similar to marriage.

In a 2005 report of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, four states – Missouri, Utah, Ohio and Michigan – were highlighted. These are states where “governmental entities and/or individuals have interpreted the constitutional amendments to: Deny domestic partner benefits, such as health insurance, to unmarried couples – same- and different-sex; argue that domestic violence laws do not apply to different-sex unmarried couples; and attempt to void a custody agreement between a same-sex couple.”

Fair Wisconsin also lists a series of ways this ban will affect non-married couples in the state of Wisconsin.

The ability to take bereavement leave in the case of a death in the family would be seriously jeopardized for all unmarried couples; joint parenting rights, existing contracts and health care benefits would be taken away from families; and senior partners who choose not to remarry would not be granted survivorship agreements.

The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault have come out against the civil unions and marriage ban in Wisconsin because they are concerned about the impact it will have on domestic violence protections for unmarried couples.

“Because of the far-reaching language of the amendment, legal experts from former Wisconsin Bar Association presidents to former governors to the Wisconsin Medical Society, are concerned that even existing medical powers of attorney for unmarried couples would be jeopardized if the ban passes,” according to the Fair Wisconsin Web site.

River Falls has its own chapter of Fair Wisconsin, headed by senior Lacey Felmlee, who is also co-chair of the Gay-Straight Alliance.

“When I first heard about [the ban] I was shocked,” Felmlee said. “I didn’t think Wisconsin would have this come up.”

She took action right away, contacting Fair Wisconsin.

“I took it very personally right away,” Felmlee said.

She is now the River Falls representative for the effort.

“It’s hurting so many people beyond the realm of same-sex couples,” Felmlee said.

She then cited court cases in Ohio where domestic violence were overturned because the couples were not married. Felmlee said they were viewed as roommates, so they could not press the same charges.

Felmlee also saidpeople may fear a 72-hour hold for domestically abused people would be invalidated, giving those individuals no time to seek other living arrangements.

“I feel like people don’t really think about how this will impact the economy,” Felmlee said. 

She said a researcher left UW-Madison with $3.5 million in grant money and went to Pennsylvania because he was unable to receive domestic partner benefits.

“If this ban passes, I will not be staying in the state of Wisconsin,” Felmlee said. “I will not be contributing to the Wisconsin economy. I don’t want to feel like a second-class citizen because I fell in love with a woman and not a man.”

Organizations supporting Fair Wisconsin in its opposition to the ban include the UW Board of Regents, United Council of UW Students, a long list of organizations and unions, as well as regional faith communities primarily comprised of three regional synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, three presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA), statewide United Methodist Conference and the statewide conference of the United Church of Christ.

Another subset of Fair Wisconsin is Students for a Fair Wisconsin.

“I have yet to find an example in our nation’s history where we made great, progressive strides as a free country just by sticking with the status quo,” said Carrie Kishline, a representative for Students for a Fair Wisconsin. “The treatment of the LGBT community by the government on all levels is deplorable, save the few states that have affirmed gay rights rather than restricted them. I’m bisexual, and I’d like my marriage to be for all the right reasons that the ‘marriage conservationists’ say it should be for. I want a lasting connection for love, not for who gets me better insurance benefits.”