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?
Opponents of the amendment have vigorously campaigned that the amendment—particularly the second clause of the amendment—is unfair to those adults who have chosen to live together without marrying.
As someone unconvinced about the necessity of the marriage amendment until recent months, I want you to see why there is much more at stake here than Madison’s domestic partnership ordinance. This is about defining fundamental terms, protecting our constitution, encouraging what benefits our society and securing timeless standards for our children. I am asking you to vote “yes” on this amendment for several reasons.
First, vote yes because we need to define our terms. Constitutions do that. Marriage predates human government and certainly predates the Wisconsin constitution. Marriage is not the creation of the government any more than our natural resources are the creation of the government. To leave off the second clause opens a door that allows social experimentation by the whim of state and local bodies. I wish ice cream were a vegetable, but I cannot make it so even if most of you agree with me. You have to draw clear lines—especially when it comes to what most people in Wisconsin have always assumed is a given: marriage by any other name is not marriage. Opponents of the proposed amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution are—knowingly or unknowingly—blurring the lines. There is more.
Another reason to define marriage in our constitution is that there is an imminent threat coming from outside our state. There is a growing judicial philosophy that creatively reinterprets legal language to turn personal preferences and employee benefits into civil rights issues. The Supreme Court in New Jersey just last week ordered their state lawmakers to provide a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals. This kind of activism is moving many other states to do just what is being proposed in Wisconsin. This is not an obscure movement. Twenty other states have passed marriage protection amendments and several more are on the ballot around the nation this Tuesday. The threats are a negative motivator, but there are also positive factors at play.
A third reason for supporting this amendment with your vote is that our public policy should reward what benefits our society. We have long recognized time-proven behaviors that produce an overall positive cultural benefit. We know home ownership is a good thing for our culture, so we give homeowners tax benefits. This does not mean our government thinks renters are bad people. It is not a civil rights issue. It encourages something we value in our nation. We do the same thing for those who save money for retirement, attend college, give to non-profit organizations, obtain job training and bear children. No institution other than the family unit started by marriage between a man and a woman has ever proven to bring long-term stability to any culture. This positive reason to apporove the amendment sets a moral standard and it raises the question of conscience, a final argument.
Voting yes on the definition of marriage is a step toward preserving the belief in moral absolutes. Aside from all the positioning, debating and even vitriol on both sides of this debate, we should not ignore that this discussion involves a fundamental clash between two worldviews. On one side there are those who believe in moral relativism. They believe that moral or ethical choices should be made in consideration of social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. On the other side are people like me. I believe there are such things as moral absolutes and that there are some things that are always right and some things that are always wrong. Those of you who agree with me realize that you cannot divorce your actions—voting included—from your fundamental worldview. Attempts to reinvent what has been a normative relationship throughout human history—starting in a beautiful garden—end in heartache.
Having been a pastor for 18 years I can give you story after story of the consequences that come whenever people try to break down the fences surrounding the marriage of one man and one woman—and homosexual marriage is only one of the breeches in that fence. Monogamous marriage is the foundational family unit for a healthy society. Kids rightly crave a mommy and a daddy in a lifelong committed relationship. Homes led by a married mother and father are not always possible, but they are the ideal environment in which children may grow up. A family is still a family if something happens to end a marriage, but we do not let go of the ideal because of the exceptions.
Voting “Yes” on the proposed marriage amendment this Tuesday is good for Wisconsin.