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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Digging Toward Daylight

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Restoring once-progressive Wisconsin from the damage wrought by Gov. Scott Walker has become such a cause nationally it's easy to forget right-wing forces already were trashing the state's enlightened values before the governor ever showed up.

That fact came to mind as hundreds of gay couples joyfully lined up in New York to declare their love for each other in marriage like any other human beings.

New York was achieving that equal rights milestone the same week the nation's military began officially ending decades of discrimination against its gay soldiers.

New York was just the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, but there is no question that its residents and its Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo are on the right side of history.

There was a time when Wisconsin stood proudly and independently on the cutting edge of progressive states.

This state's achievements included a 150-year ban on the death penalty, the birth of public employee bargaining rights, being one of the first states to outlaw job discrimination against gay people, and one of only two states still maintaining a common sense prohibition against carrying concealed weapons in public.

Within months of Walker assuming office, that proud record is in tatters. Bargaining rights for public employees were destroyed. Illinois is now the only state politically courageous enough to stand against the proliferation of deadly weapons on its streets.

Perhaps all that prevented pro-death Republicans from reinstating capital punishment in Wisconsin was running out of time before recall elections and deciding it was more important to jam through a dishonestly drawn redistricting plan to try to rig future elections.

Putting Hate on the Ballot

Sadly, on allowing gays to marry those they love, Wisconsin can't hide behind the extremism of Scott Walker.

Back in 2006, pre-Walker Republicans cynically decided the way to defeat Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle for re-election would be to pump up the pro-hate and pro-murder votes.

They succeeded in scheduling voter referenda prohibiting gay marriage and ending the century-and-a-half ban on capital punishment on the same ballot as the governor's race.

The vote on capital punishment was a meaningless advisory referendum, which is another way of saying pointless. The fact that voters expressed a thirst for murdering people did nothing to start construction of gallows in public squares, for which civilized people everywhere can be grateful.

There really wasn't any point to the referendum opposing gay marriage, either. Gay marriage already was illegal in Wisconsin. It couldn't get any more illegal. The referendum was simply an opportunity for anti-gay voters to express their hatred anew.

But the truly vicious thing about the vote was that it took the form of an amendment to the state Constitution.

Constitutional amendments usually guarantee equal protection for everyone under the law. The anti-gay amendment to Wisconsin's Constitution was instead an un-American declaration that people who some didn't like shouldn't have equal rights under our laws.

The saddest part of the ugly spectacle was that some so-called leaders whipped up the anti-gay vote by wrapping themselves in religion.

No legitimate religion in the world is based on hate. Misrepresenting Christianity to preach hatred of people who are born with a different sexual orientation is no different than misinterpreting Islam to justify terrorism and murder.

Neither is it accurate to describe opposition to allowing gays to marry as a politically conservative point of view. As I've written before, the truly conservative position on gay marriage would be to insist upon it.

The political conservatives I grew up around in Indiana certainly would never be in favor of gays having sex willy-nilly without being married.

Gay couples entering into marriage are embracing the family values of one of society's most conservative institutions. True conservatives would welcome that.

No sooner did Wisconsin abandon its progressive traditions and deface its state Constitution with an amendment denying human rights than the rest of the country began moving in the opposite, more humane direction.

According to Gallup, a majority in the U.S. now supports legalizing same-sex marriage, compared to just 25% in 1996. The six states that have legalized such marriages so far include the lefty, radical state of Iowa.

Gov. Walker's slashing of funds for education and stripping public employees of rights along with Congressman Paul Ryan's advocacy of dismantling Medicare and Social Security have awakened Wisconsin voters to the political extremism that has seized control of the Republican Party.

But some of the ugly forces producing Walker and Ryan already were at work for years under the radar.

The clear path to restoring Wisconsin's tradition of decency starts with the Aug. 9 recalls to provide a check on Republican extremism in the Legislature, building toward a Walker recall starting in January and the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Then Wisconsin should restore human rights for everyone in its state Constitution.