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Tuesday, July 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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To Gov. Walker: There is 'significant movement' toward marriage equality in Wisconsin

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Dear Gov. Walker,

You were quoted a couple of weeks ago as saying that you sense no "significant movement" toward legalizing gay marriage in Wisconsin, and you justified fighting whatever movement there is by stating that as an elected official it is your duty to uphold the Constitution. So I must ask a few questions and point out a few details.

Is upholding the Wisconsin Constitution the reason you supported amending it back in 2006? Previously it had guaranteed equal rights to all Badger citizens, but the amendment you supported changed it to specifically prevent same-sex partners from marrying in the state of Wisconsin. It singled out one class of citizens for legalized discrimination, despite its clearly being in violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.

Not only did the Wisconsin amendment prohibit same-sex partners from marrying, it disallowed anything "substantially similar" to marriage. It became the most regressive anti-marriage amendment in the nation. It was also the first time in our state's history that the Constitution was amended to deny rights rather than to expand them, and you supported that. You should be ashamed. You allowed your personal opinions and religious beliefs to trump your duty to the Constitution and to protecting all citizens of this great state.

Was your deep and abiding respect for the Constitution also the reason you had your palace guards at the Capitol make more than 400 arrests of people who dared expressing their political points of view in song? Were you not aware that we enjoy the constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances? On the same day you claimed seeing no "significant movement" on gay marriage, a judge threw several cases out of court by citing the arrests as unconstitutional. Have you called yet to thank the judge for protecting the constitutional rights you hold so dear? If not, you should do that soon.

Why would you have allowed the Capitol Police to continue their illegal arrests if you cared so much about the Constitution and your duty to uphold it? Simply put, you allowed your political agenda to override any concerns about the legality of the police actions. You seem to have a habit of disregarding the Constitution when it is convenient or to your advantage.

Aside from your supposed reverence for the Constitution, your assertion that there is no "significant movement" toward marriage equality is an outright lie. It is simply not true. You may have learned the Karl Rove technique of repeating a lie until people believe it, but nobody is buying it on this issue. Nine states in the last year alone legalized marriage equality. Ten years ago not a single state allowed same-sex marriages. Illinois passed a marriage equality bill last year, and when it takes effect in June there will be 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow it, with legal decisions in New Mexico and Utah temporarily on hold while the courts decide on citizens' lawsuits against those states.

Other states are also considering passage of similar bills. In addition Scotland just passed a marriage equality law and joined Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Iceland, parts of Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Wales. You say there is no movement toward marriage equality? Really? You are either lying or misinformed. Even the United States Supreme Court is clearly moving closer to it with their recent decisions affirming the rights of gays and lesbians in California to marry, along with the decision to strike down the clearly discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps you were only considering marriage equality in Wisconsin when you spoke. Or perhaps you were only considering your limited worldview. When the Legislature passed the anti-marriage amendment and then presented it to the public as a pro-family idea rather than as the discriminatory anti-gay amendment that it really was, supporters of the amendment managed to convince 59% of the voters that the amendment should be passed. However, only six years later, by October 2012, a Marquette University poll showed that 44% of Wisconsinites supported marriage equality. A mere one year later, by October 2013, that number was up to 53%, the first time a majority of the state's citizens expressed support for same-sex marriage, and marking a 9% increase in one year. Perhaps you didn't take statistics before you suddenly left Marquette University, but those numbers show a significant movement toward marriage equality.

What stands in the way is the anti-marriage amendment you supported so strongly. I presume you are aware of the movement to overturn that amendment: The ACLU, on behalf of four Wisconsin couples, sued you and the state of Wisconsin the day after you made your statement. Last week, the Democrats in the Legislature introduced a bill to overturn that very same amendment. However, I realize I should probably not presume any awareness on your part. The reason you are not seeing it now is that everyone knows that as long as you and your tea party associates are in control of the governor's office, statehouse and courts, it will have to wait. But it will happen. You, sir, are on the wrong side of history.

I do not need you to approve of me personally. If you choose not to grow as the rest of the country has done, that is your choice. As for your personal beliefs, you are welcome to live in a world of your choosing. But as the governor of my state, part of your job is to ensure that I will be afforded the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities as all other Wisconsinites and Americans. As the head of our state, you should be the one taking the lead to protect all citizens and to guarantee the rights of all, particularly minorities. If you can't take the lead, at least step out of the way of progress and let the rest of us move Wisconsin forward.

Callen Harty is a resident of Monona. He publishes A Single Bluebird, and the original version of this letter was published here. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.

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