MADISON, Wis. - Recent Supreme Court rulings favoring the rights of gay and lesbian people to marry go to illustrate how mistaken Wisconsin voters were a few years ago when they decided to amend the state constitution to prohibit such unions.
The court ruling says federal benefits cannot differ between same-sex and opposite-sex married couples -- so long as those couples are legally married.
In Wisconsin, same-sex couples can't be legally married. Our constitution prohibits it. There are something like 1,100 legal benefits that married couples get from the federal government that single people don't get.
What that's going to mean in Wisconsin I don't think anyone quite yet knows. But, just assuming the ruling means what it says, then a gay couple or a lesbian couple who marry in Minnesota will receive benefits they don't receive in Wisconsin.
Those benefits can be substantial. The elderly woman who brought the Defense of Marriage Act case to the Supreme Court was forced to pay something like $373,000 in estate taxes that she wouldn't have owed had she been married to a man rather than to a woman.
I pay a few thousand dollars a year less in income taxes because my wife and I file as a married couple filing jointly than we would if we filed as singles.
So, we might well end up in a situation where affluent gay and lesbian people will find it more advantageous to live in Minnesota than in Wisconsin. We will also end up in a situation where businesses will find it more advantageous to expand in Minnesota than in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin, then, may become a place known as being better for bigots than for business.
I don't think there is a prayer that that constitutional amendment could pass in Wisconsin today. Even with an electorate willing to send a bizarre assortment of Republicans to Madison, I don't think that amendment could pass muster with state voters.
Public opinion on matters gay and lesbian as changed so radically in the past few years that our constitution no longer represents the will of the people.
Nor is public opinion likely to change back. The simple fact is that we're no longer afraid of gay and lesbian people. They've come out of the closet. We see them as neighbors, co-workers, friends. Their children play with our children.
At the same time that gays and lesbians want to strengthen the institution of marriage by participating in it, traditional marriage is falling apart.
The divorce rate is high. An increasing percentage of women have children before marriage, if, indeed, they ever marry. The religious claim that opposite sex marriage is ordained by God for the protection of children really doesn't have much empirical evidence to back it up.
So, here we are in Wisconsin, a state with a "progressive" reputation that pretty much got put on hold when Tommy Thompson joined the Bush administration and which, for the past three years, has been heading toward regression, marching backward under the motto "Forward."
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