Wineke: Wisconsin Would Likely Reject Gay Marriage Ban Today

Published On: Jun 26 2011 04:39:41 AM CDT   Updated On: Jun 26 2011 04:40:56 AM CDT

By Bill Wineke Special to Channel 3000

New York just became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin won't be the seventh. We, in our wisdom, adopted a constitutional amendment a few years ago immortalizing a bigoted ban that has outlived its usefulness.

That was in 2006. Citizens of the state voted overwhelmingly to make gay marriage and so-called "civil unions" illegal forever. Marriage in the state was already limited to men and women but proponents of the amendment feared some future legislature might actually want to treat people as equals.

I doubt very much such a constitutional amendment could be adopted in Wisconsin today. Even with our right-wing governor and state Legislature my guess is that the culture has changed so radically that a majority of voters would find it silly to create such a permanent ban.

It is stunning to see just how rapidly public opinion has changed on the matter of gay rights.

Fifty years ago, when I was graduating from Verona High School, I had only a vague idea of what a homosexual was. We sometimes made anti-gay jokes, but we really didn't know what we were talking about.

The Stonewall riots of 1969, in which New York City gays stood up to police officers who were harassing them, were almost a decade in the future.

The rise of AIDS, which spread throughout the gay community -- as well as in other communities, it came to be known -- put not only the disease, but the culture on the map. At that point, no one was talking marriage. The definition of "gay" pretty much became intertwined with the idea of free love and promiscuous lifestyle.

Now, that definition was pretty much wrong. I lived in Brooklyn Heights, New York, for a couple of years in the 1960s and most of my neighbors were gay or lesbian and they all seemed to be pretty stable people who went to church, worked on renovating their brownstones and were passionately interested in sports.

And our culture changed. As AIDS decimated the gay community, and as many of those who contracted the disease returned home to be cared for by their parents and siblings, we started to learn there were a lot more gay and lesbian people in our communities than we had ever dreamed.

Then famous people started falling from AIDS. Liberace we might have expected, but Rock Hudson?

Gays and lesbians were becoming visible and culture changed. A few years ago a couple of popular Madison priests died of the disease. I've always had a profound respect for the way the late Madison Bishop William Bullock, a well-known theological conservative, publicly stood behind those priests.

Then gays and lesbians began to adopt children -- or bore children, or kept custody of their children after leaving heterosexual spouses. They actually started demanding to be treated as "normal" men and women.

Somewhere along the line, the cultural battle was won. There are still skirmishes, of course. A Methodist minister in Wisconsin was just suspended for 20 days after being convicted of officiating at a same-sex ceremony. But, 20 days? Come on! That's just giving lip service to a policy in which no one still believes. The official policy of the Roman Catholic Church still opposes homosexual acts and the church hierarchy certainly tries to resist laws like those just passed in New York, but the world is pretty much just passing on by.

What happened is that the public perception of gays and lesbians went from not seeing them at all to seeing them as exotic to seeing them as neighbors. Increasingly, I think, we're returning to not seeing them at all because they have become so much parts of our neighborhoods, schools, churches and, soon, military units.

Except that, in Wisconsin, we still have this stupid constitutional amendment that was meant to "protect" marriage but, increasingly, just makes marriage seem irrelevant.