Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fifty three percent

Fifty three percent is such a modest number. Just barely more than half; just a slight majority. It represents dramatic improvement over what likely would have been a much higher number just a decade ago. Which makes me wonder. Are we forcing a vote now, on gay marriage and on reinstating the death penalty, not because of our fear of activist judges, but because of our fear that the tide is changing and that if we fail to act now, we'll not get another chance?

Support is dwindling, and it's only a matter of time before we all wake up and realize that the death penalty and restrictions on marriage both blatantly violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Recent polls suggest that about 53% of Wisconsinites support both a ban on gay marriage and reinstatement of the death penalty. One wonders if they are the same 53%.

I am so proud that Wisconsin was the first state to create unemployment compensation, create workers compensation, and outlaw discrimination against women. This historical record is one of the primary reasons I moved here from the east coast. We have the rarest of opportunities on November 7th to lead again. To show the world that Wisconsin is fair, just, and stands boldly as a leader in the fight against discrimination. It is such an exciting, once in a generation opportunity, I can barely contain my enthusiasm.

Fifty three percent. It almost makes me want to take a leave of absence from my job and family and go door to door. To shake some sense back into the Wisconsinites who've let rhetoric and fear drown out what they know is right.

Homosexuality is not illegal. We have committed, loving, same sex couples living right now in our state. Paying taxes, working, raising children. This is a fact. How could anyone, anyone, not want to support such families, support their children, and ensure that they have the same rights conferred upon the rest of us? It's not like passage of this referendum is going to break apart these families, though I'm not sure that's what anyone would want anyway. Are we really feeling that threatened? If we pass this referendum, nothing will have changed, nothing, other than our constitutional confirmation of the second class status of thousands of families throughout our state. What will we say on the night of November 7th, as we tuck our own children into bed? "Yeah! We did it. We just ensured that two loving, committed members of a family can't visit each other in the hospital. We just ensured that, should one of the parents die, the other will have a difficult time raising her own children." Is this really going to make us feel better? Is this really supportive of family values?

The death penalty has been illegal in Wisconsin for 153 years. For one and a half centuries, we've had the good sense to realize that we as a society must rise above heinous acts of violence while simultaneously deploring those same acts. We have talked the talk (violence is wrong) and we have walked the walk (we will thus not engage in it). We know for a fact that a black man is four times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white man. We know for a fact that a poor man is infinitely more likely than a rich man. We know that the death penalty is more expensive (two to six times) and does not serve as a deterrent. So we reinstate the death penalty. Do we feel better? We haven't helped anything - haven't saved any dollars, prevented more crime, or instituted some new radical reform. Only two things will have changed. First, we will have validated that an eye for an eye is a just solution in an advanced democracy. Second, we will have appropriated authority to decide when to apply the sixth commandment, that we shalt not kill.

I find myself growing increasingly depressed with each passing day. On November 7th, Wisconsin has the chance to lead, to demonstrate its commitment to equality, justice, and non-violence. To demonstrate its commitment to family values and moral leadership. To make me proud to be here and proud to raise my children here. I wish I could communicate with the fifty three percent... I wish I could beg them to think about this, to really think about it, and please not make November 7th a day we regret. Terrorism will still exist. Our air will still be dirty. Our schools will still have insufficient resources. We'll still worry about morals, values, equality, school shootings, and too much violence in our culture. And we'll all wake up on November 8th and continue to share our collective sadness that the world doesn't seem to be going in the right direction. The problem is, we will have just taken two pretty big steps further away from the world we really want.


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