Op-ed: In Wisconsin, Marriage Is Just the Beginning
Many of us in Wisconsin remember November 7, 2006, as a dark and sad day for our state — the day the amendment defining marriage instilled hate in our state constitution. I still recall looking over the faces of many of my friends, both gay and straight, who had fought long and hard against the law, and I could sense, at that moment, that the prospects of equality in their lifetimes were dim at best. But I knew if we kept on fighting, we would eventually tear down the prejudices that were stubbornly holding on for dear life.
On June 6, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin’s ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This was a joyous moment for the LGBT community in Wisconsin — knowing that finally everyone in the state would be treated with dignity and respect. The federal court affirmed, for LGBT couples in the state, the liberty to live their lives.
I had the chance to visit the city-county building in downtown Madison the day after the ruling, where dozens of couples had received marriage licenses before noon. It was indeed a day for celebration as the outpouring of emotion and energy was clearly on display. In ruling after ruling, it has become unmistakable that the promise of America is everyone should be treated equally and with dignity. The June 6 ruling in Wisconsin brings us one step closer to fulfilling this promise.
Challenges to this promise still remain. On the same day Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the marriage ban, Wisconsin attorney general J.B. Van Hollen appealed the ruling and asked the federal appeals court to stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses. This is a regressive and blatantly political attempt to revive a hateful and discriminatory law that violates the ideals of liberty and equality in our Constitution. Society has changed and barriers to equality continue to be broken down; it’s a tragedy that there are individuals living in a more hateful day. It’s vital we take the energy gained from the recent court victories in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Pennsylvania and continue the fight for the legal recognition and benefits of marriage across the country.
The case for equality has been settled: We now have the public and the courts on our side. It is clear that the growing momentum of support for marriage equality will put an end to discriminatory laws that treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens. But in a year of milestones for the equality movement across the country, we still must overcome obstacles and ensure that everyone has equality in all aspects of life. For instance, Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted by an NFL team can still be fired from a job in Wisconsin simply because of his sexual orientation. Passing the Employment Non Discrimination Act in the House of Representatives must be also be a top priority for the equality movement. I look forward to the day when we are judged by our character, skill, and integrity, not by our color, gender, or sexual orientation.
Until all 50 states in our union recognize all love equally and all citizens equally under the law, there will be too many people made to feel unworthy merely for who they are and whom they love. We didn’t stop fighting that day seven years ago in Wisconsin, and we will not stop fighting now. From the halls of Congress to the streets of Madison, I am as confident as ever that our quest for equal rights will prevail.
REP. MARK POCAN represents Wisconsin's Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.