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Marriage Equality Week in Wisconsin

Jun. 19, 2014
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Marriage Equality Week in Wisconsin turned out to be an enormous success. Whenever we take an historic step toward our nation’s beautiful ideal of equality for all, we should always kick it off with just such an exuberant public celebration.

Oh, sure. A few sour-faced cranks were grumbling about what they kept calling the “chaos and confusion” of allowing gay men and women to marry someone they love just like heterosexual men and women do.

But it wasn’t really all that confusing. In fact, it was simple. Marriage is a very formal, ritualized process. Gay couples, including many who’d been waiting for decades, figured it out within minutes.

All they needed was for U.S. Judge Barbara Crabb to state the obvious: That gay couples were living, breathing human beings just like heterosexual couples and had a constitutional right to be treated equally under the law.

What die-hard opponents found so baffling turned out to be one of the coolest parts. After unequivocally striking down Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban as unconstitutional, Crabb didn’t immediately issue orders to everyone telling them what to do. She just let them do it.

And most responsible officials, both Democratic and Republican with very few exceptions, did the right thing all on their own.

Responding to committed gay couples throughout the state seeking marriage licenses, county clerks in 60 of the state’s 72 counties quickly began issuing them. That included some of Wisconsin’s tea partiest counties. Within a week, more than 550 same-sex couples had received marriage licenses.

Many were married immediately by ministers and elected judges who showed up at courthouses on the weekend to happily preside over joyful, tearful ceremonies that at long last legally recognized what were already strong, loving families and relationships.

The most glaring Republican state politician sniping at the novel concept of gay citizens having the same rights as everyone else was Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. Van Hollen continues to fight to restore the gay marriage ban.

Since Van Hollen is not running for re-election, he wouldn’t have to continue pandering to his party’s most extreme homophobic elements. But he just couldn’t seem to resist saying ridiculous things.

At one point, Van Hollen made an absurd public threat that county clerks could be prosecuted for issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after the marriage ban was struck down.

Even Gov. Scott Walker, who’s running for re-election as governor and then, he fantasizes, for president, realized opposition to marriage equality was a loser for Republicans in the state and the nation.

Shortly before Crabb’s ruling, Walker backed off his long-professed strong opposition to marriage equality. He said it was a constitutional question for federal judges to decide and he didn’t think legalization was any big deal.

After some initial fumbling, Walker’s state government accepted the marriage certificates of gay couples.


Republicans and Democrats Support Same-Sex Marriage

After the week in which hundreds of gay marriages took place in Wisconsin, Crabb has now halted the legal marriages while her decision permitting them is being appealed.

So is that the famous “chaos and confusion” gay marriage opponents are so worried sick about? That some gay couples were allowed to get married in Wisconsin while others temporarily cannot?

Well, it won’t be a problem for long. Nationally, same-sex marriage has now been declared legal in a majority of 27 states, including Wisconsin, and for the overwhelming majority of the nation’s population since that includes many of our largest states.

In a few of those states, also including Wisconsin, where hundreds of gay couples have already legally married, the opportunity has been stopped temporarily by the legal machinations of opponents.

But what’s most impressive about all the court decisions across the country declaring marriage bans unconstitutional is that federal judges appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents have reached the same conclusion.

The U.S. Supreme Court already has declared same-sex couples married in any state to be eligible for all the federal tax benefits and other legal rights of married couples.

In state after state, the simple revolutionary act of hundreds of ordinary, decent individuals who love each other legally marrying as soon as they were allowed has sped the momentum toward marriage equality until it is now virtually a settled issue.

Despite what opponents have always claimed, marriage equality is not some nefarious plot by liberals to turn our communities into smoldering ruins of wild, libertine immorality.

Marriage is one of our most conservative social institutions. I’ve always said true conservatives shouldn’t fight gay marriage. They should insist upon it.

Not even a Supreme Court with a conservative majority—certainly not if it’s honestly conservative—is about to unmarry thousands of legally married same-sex couples with legally protected rights across the country.

In fact, Marriage Equality Week worked so well in Wisconsin, a majority of Americans are ready to expand it to year-around.


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