Sometimes, I think that the sociopolitical difference between Madison and the rest of Wisconsin is overplayed. The beliefs people hold, the preferences they act upon, and the attitudes they express are dictated by the amount of knowledge they hold and the level of critical thinking they possess...not geography.
Or is it? These qualities don't happen in a vacuum...they're contingent upon other factors as well; factors that are not equal in all places alike. Divisions exist...and at no time was that division more stark than when the availability of civil rights went up for popular vote in 2006.
Referendum 1 was the piece of legislation that inserted the following quotation into the permanent record of the Wisconsin State Constitution: "Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state." Therefore, gay and lesbian couples who love each other are not allowed to marry...or even be endowed with any semblance of "separate but almost equal" legal and financial benefits according to the state. In spite of fervent protests and persuasions by fair-minded citizens in the lead up, a majority of voters in seventy-one of the state's seventy-two counties voted this piece of bigoted garbage into law on November 7, 2006. Dane County, home of Madison, was the sole exception.
Bear in mind, this was the exact same state that enacted the very first protections against anti-gay employment and housing discrimination in the country; signed into law by Republican governor Lee Dreyfus in 1982. The exact same Wisconsin whose policies by and large in the intervening time period earned it the nickname of "The Gay Rights State." The exact same Wisconsin that was one of only seven states in the lower 48 never to have had an anti-miscegenation law in effect in its history. Though a few other happenings have added themselves to the list since, Referendum 1 was and is a thorough embarassment to Wisconsin's record and reputation.
The left map shows the referendum results by percentage in each county...with Dane being the only one rejecting the measure, but seven others (LaCrosse, Iowa, Eau Claire, Menominee, Portage, Green, and Milwaukee) falling close to a tie. The right map is a depiction of the number of voters swaying the results in each county...in other words, the difference between outcome tallies for each position divided by two. This is closely reflective of population density, but also underscores how deceptively small the margin in many places really was. If 3000 people in each county had changed their minds...and for comparison, that's less than the population of Kiel or Algoma...the measure would have failed in 32 counties statewide, not just one.
Some of the patterns are interesting to observe. Milwaukee County had one of the lowest percentages of amendment support, for example, yet was second only to Waukesha in the number of votes cast for it by "virtue" of its huge population. And on both maps, the counties with the largest and most fervent amendment support formed a line along the Lake Michigan shore...with the hovel of Manitowoc County smack dab in the middle of it. Voters there expressed their preferences with all the enlightenment of a lynch mob: 70 percent cast their support for the referendum, a level that would be shocking if not for the disproportionate hold of influence that the ultraconservative, reality-denying Roman Catholic and Wisconsin Evengelical Lutheran Synod churches have on local social structure and discourse.
Let's pause for a moment and look at claims and evidence here. The sole point, purpose, and effect of the amendment was to harm gay and lesbian people. No one else was affected. There was no practical, social, or economic benefit. If anything, denying people equal civil rights by means of the highest letter of the law simply acted as a encouragement for the affected and forward-minded citizens of all stripes to take their lives and business elsewhere.
As a negative statement restricting rights and liberties surrounded by directives that protect and increase them, the amendment sticks out in the constitution like a sore thumb. Same-sex marriage had not yet been legalized in Wisconsin before the amendment came into effect...so not only did it harm people, but it harmed people by perpetually denying them rights that they hadn't even achieved yet. And marriage is a civil right: The Supreme Court established it as such when Loving vs. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation laws nationwide in 1967, in an era when such laws attracted popular support by a ratio of over three to one. Had it been left up to individual states repealing their statutes due to popular pressure one at a time, interracial marriage would not have been legalized nationally until the 1990s or beyond!
Any assertion that same-sex marriage would result in an causative increase of incest, or bestiality, or STDs is absolute, complete, and utter bullshit. A zygote could debunk any of that with one glance at the evidence of no such thing ever happening in any place where it's as legal and normal as day. So, with verifiable "secular" justifications against same-sex marriage boiled away, what does it leave?
It leaves the case against same-sex marriage as the sole thing it consists of: Religious excuses. Excuses that what a book written thousands of years ago by semi-literate scribes and subject to the limited knowledge and fossilized opinions of the time says ought to take precedence over emperical evidence and critical thinking, at the expense of real human lives. Excuses that an invisible, unverifiable being would destroy Wisconsin like he did Sodom and Gomorrah if his good followers in the state didn't get off their duffs and write their exclusionary whims into the constitution. Excuses that bona fide hate groups and theocratic lobbying concerns like the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, Focus on the Family, and Wisconsin Family Action fanned and funded for all it was worth. In fact, there is no meaningful scrap or shred of anti-gay prejudice in existence that is not explicitly or indirectly religious in origin...and by that measure, gay marriage prohibitions ought to be struck down by the First Amendment alone. Our constitutional law is secular, and religious bigotry ought to have no place in it.
"But marriage is a religious institution!" No, it isn't: The religious aspects of marriage are just optional window trappings on a secular, civil contract with myriad nuances ranging from joint tax and financial benefits to custody issues, hospital visitation, health care, rights to inheritance, and the right not to testify against a partner in court....benefits that are being denied to a sizable segment of the population to further your schadenfreude. "But clergy will be forced to marry people against their will!" No, and there's no reason why a wedding needs to be in a church (let alone an anti-gay church) at all. "But marriage is for procreation!" Not necessarily, and anyone who makes this claim does an insulting disservice to legions of single-parent households and childless couples everywhere. "I believe in the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman, but I'm not a bigot." Wrong: You are a bigot if you want to deny full civil equality to other citizens, and it doesn't matter how politely you phrase yourself when expressing that. "Those damn homosexuals want special rights!" No, they want equal rights...rights they are specifically denied unless the law is changed, and rights that you take for granted as a condition of heterosexual privilege.
The definition of marriage in its most prosaic is to unite. That's all. The composition of who may or may not unite has continually been tweaked and "redefined" since the dawn of time, in a direction that most of us would interpret as being fairer and better. Lest anyone forget, the traditional interpretation of marriage not so long ago was one white man and any number of white women, owned as property and used as baby mills and sex slaves. That was certainly the case in Biblical times. Dare I say that the Christianist authorities trumpeting "traditional marriage" would like to see a return to that?
Five long years have elapsed since the Wisconsin state constitution was amended, and a lot can change in that much time. Demographic trends have been rapidly shifting in favor of marriage equality nationwide, and multiple credible polls in the last year now gauge it as a majority position...that's accelerating faster than ever before. Though full civil equality is impossible so long as the discriminatory federal-level Defense of Marriage Act remains in place, six other states plus the D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage since 2006; the largest being New York...a state with upstate demographics very similar to Wisconsin.
If an identical constitutional ban were voted on again in 2012, would it pass? Not likely. Nate Silver did a series of statistical analyses to predict what such an outcome would be, and the results would likely drive Julaine Appling into a fit: 52.4% rejecting and 47.6% supporting, under a conservative linear model. Assuming the demographic changes would be constant statewide, the resulting county-by-county outcome would probably look like the maps above.
Wisconsin's constitutional "gay marriage" ban is an albatross around the state's neck. It MUST be repealed. Until then, the state will continue to drive away talent, drive away families, drive away visitors, deny itself windfalls of wedding-related economic revenue, and deny itself a status as a welcoming and tolerant place that all can enjoy. Until then, gay and lesbian Wisconsinites...all of them neighbors, family members, and people from all ways and means of life...will continue to be endowed with a dismissive status as second-class citizens undeserving of full civil equality in the eyes of the law. Until then, the state will continue to be a laughingstock steered by religiously-motivated prejudice as the rest of the world marches on without us.
But how? An amendment is not a statute, and is not easy to repeal...especially in a dystopic political environment where the administration of the state hires people who believe anti-gay discrimination is legal to oversee discrimination complaints, tries to undermine the state's already-pitiful "separate and unequal" Domestic Partnership Registry by refusing to defend it in court, and compares gay people to tables, chairs, and clocks.
First, Governor Koch (d/b/a Scott Walker) must be removed from office. Second, the balance of power must be shifted so that pro-equality legislators are able to counteract the push of Joe Leibham, Glenn Grothman, Bob Ziegelbauer, and other perpetual religious bigots who hold back the tide of progress and who shooed the amendment into position in the first place. From that point on, the measure may be repealed by the same long process that caused it to come into effect: By having a measure pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature, then pass a statewide referendum.
This isn't a task for an afternoon: It will require a huge investment of time and effort spread over seven years or more to chuck this piece of bigoted filth out of the constitution and out of the state...while life ticks by. Only then will we have full civil equality in "The Gay Rights State," and only then can we put Wisconsin's anti-equality farce to rest for good.