One Weekend

Power to the Peaceful.  The Overpass Light Brigade with a message of peace.  Madison, Wisconsin.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Power to the Peaceful. The Overpass Light Brigade with a message of peace. Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

One of the things I regularly do is look at news online. This morning I saw that a man had been shot and killed in a hotel parking lot in my city of Madison, Wisconsin. It doesn’t happen often here, but it does happen. Madison is a relatively safe city, but there are a number of murders every year. A short time later I saw that a man had been shot to death in Milwaukee, a city which the last several years has had a large number of killings. Later in the morning there was a report of a woman shot and killed along a road in Beloit, Wisconsin. In reading another article on a Seattle television site I saw that two people had been killed in Seattle overnight. Then four more in Chicago, and I thought, this has to stop. Somehow this has to stop.

This is one weekend in America. It is unfortunately likely to be a typical weekend in America. The thought occurred to me that if I checked the newspapers of the most populous cities in the country I’d probably see a couple dozen more murders listed, and I was unfortunately right when I decided to go ahead and do that. Here is what I found in a cursory glance at the newspapers from the 25 most populous cities in the country. Keep in mind I pretty much just looked at the front pages and in some cases the local news section. It may be that I missed some.

  • New York, New York (New York Times): No violent crimes that I could find.  I’d be surprised if I weren’t looking in the wrong place.
  • Los Angeles, California (L. A. Times): One man shot and killed in a motel parking lot in Pomona. Another man shot and killed his wife in Jurupa, injured someone else, and then later committed suicide (police did not release details on how he killed himself).
  • Chicago, Illinois (Chicago Tribune):  At least 40 people were injured and four people killed in Chicago over the weekend from gunfire, including a man who was shot and killed through the door of a bar in Brighton Park and an 11 year old girl who was shot and killed at a slumber party.
  • Houston, Texas (Houston Chronicle):  A teenage boy was shot and killed in a Houston park late Saturday night.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Inquirer):  I couldn’t get to the articles without a subscription, but saw the following headlines under “latest news”–“Paraplegic fatally shot brother”, “Three dead in city violence streak”, and “Body found in Pennyback Creek”.
  • Phoenix, Arizona (Phoenix Sun):  Man in Tempe officer-involved shooting died.  A man died and another was wounded in a shootout in Glendale.
  • San Antonio, Texas (San Antonio Express-News):  A man was shot in the head early Sunday morning and is in critical condition in the hospital.
  • San Diego, California (San Diego Union-Tribune):  No deaths reported, but the following items were listed–A San Diego State University student was stabbed at a frat party and survived.  A woman walking alone was assaulted and survived.  Another person was stabbed at a swap meet.
  • Dallas, Texas (Dallas Morning News):  Elderly woman found dead in Garland; being treated as a homicide.
  • San Jose, California (San Jose Mercury News):  Four injuries reported in separate shootings, including a ten year old girl.
  • Austin, Texas (Austin American-Statesman):  No deaths reported.  One report of a woman assaulted on the Riverside campus.
  • Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville News):  No deaths noticed.  A man was shot in the heel on Saturday night.  Another man was reported shot on Sunday.
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (Indianapolis Star):  Man arrested in murder of his wife, who died of a head injury; he was also accused of stabbing his son.
  • San Francisco, California (San Francisco Chronicle):  Two people died in Sausalito after a report of shots fired.
  • Columbus, Ohio (Columbus Dispatch):  One man died and a woman was injured in a shooting at a Hocking Hill cabin.
  • Fort Worth, Texas (Fort Worth Star-Telegram):  None noted.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina (Charlotte Observer):  A man was attacked with a concrete block.
  • Detroit, Michigan (Detroit Free Press):  A man was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight between his wife and another woman on Saturday.
  • El Paso, Texas (El Paso Times):  None noted.
  • Memphis, Tennessee (Memphis Daily News):  None noted.
  • Boston, Massachusetts (Boston Globe):  Four injured in separate shootings.
  • Seattle, Washington (Seattle Post-Intelligencer):  Four officers injured and a suspect killed in a shootout in Kent.  A man was arrested in a double homicide in which a man was found by a river with severe head trauma and a woman was later found with similar injuries.
  • Denver, Colorado (Denver Post):  One person injured in an Aurora shooting.
  • Washington, DC (Washington Post):  None noted.
  • Nashville, Tennessee (Nashville Tennessean):  None noted.

Not counting the murders I had previously noted in my home state of Wisconsin what I found was 24 deaths and 65 injuries from violence reported in the 25 most populated cities in the country, all from this weekend. There was the occasional concrete block, a couple stabbings, a couple traumatic head injuries, but the bulk of the violence was due to shootings. We are living in a war zone in this country and we need to do something about it. Importantly, though, it’s not just the large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. It also includes places like Madison and Beloit, Wisconsin, and smaller cities all over the map. This was just one weekend. There are 52 weekends a year and 52 weeks of Monday through Friday as well. There are hundreds more medium to large cities that I didn’t look up, thousands of small cities and towns. It is just a small glimpse into the violent culture in which we live. Most of us don’t hear about murders in places like Nashville, Jacksonville, or Milwaukee unless we live there, let alone smaller places, but this kind of violence is happening across the country every day of every week of every year.

I don’t have any suggestions. I don’t know what to do to stop us from sinking further into violence, but I know that we cannot live like this. I know that something must be done to keep us from falling into a dystopian American nightmare where we are afraid of our neighbors and fellow community members. I wish I had an easy answer, but clearly it needs to start with an examination of the gun culture which permeates our nation. I believe in the Bill of Rights, but I also believe in the right to pursue happiness without the fear of getting shot and killed by random violence. We need to take a hard look at what is going on with our violent culture.

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Bobby Lee and Me

At a neo-Nazi rally in West Allis, 2012.  Photo by Callen Harty.

At a neo-Nazi rally in West Allis, 2012. Photo by Callen Harty.

Bobby Lee McClung has been on my mind a lot lately.

I have been thinking about race and racism a lot lately.

Bobby Lee came to visit my home town in southwestern Wisconsin when I was a kid and an event while he was there changed my perception of the world. He was from a small town also, Itta Bena, but his town was in the Deep South in the middle of Mississippi. Bobby Lee was black and the citizens of Itta Bena were almost all black also. The people of my town were white–not almost all white–but all. I had never met a black person before him because there were quite simply none in my town or county. In fact, there was pretty much no diversity at all. One Jewish family moved into town when I was about ten or eleven, one family was said to have Native American blood and people talked about how they received government money because of it, and we had a Filipino doctor for a year or two. That was the extent of our understanding of cultural differences. There were no Mexicans, no African-Americans, no Asians. Instead, the distinctions were Catholic or Protestant, Irish or German or a handful of other European possibilities, and, of course, wealthy or poor. My family was Irish-Catholic and closer to the poor end of that scale.

My first experience with human color was several years before Bobby Lee’s arrival. I don’t know how old I was at the time, but I know I was still quite young. We were visiting relatives in Hanover, Illinois. My aunt and uncle and their family lived at Craig Manor, an entire section of town filled with countless identical apartment buildings that were built as temporary housing during World War II for families working at the Savanna Army Depot. The buildings were still being used well into the 1960s and 1970s and provided affordable housing for many families. My family had lived in one of the units in the late 1950s, until my father passed away at a young age and my mother moved us back to her home town to raise us. That day in Hanover I was on the front steps of my aunt and uncle’s place when a woman came out of one of the apartments across the street. She was a heavy-set woman of a dark chocolate color, which I had never seen before and didn’t understand. She raised her arms and started shaking a rug of its dust and I turned and ran back into the apartment to my mother because I was scared of this woman who looked so different than anyone I had ever seen.

While I know that prejudice and racism are rooted in fear and ignorance I’m not sure if I believe that fear and ignorance automatically make one prejudiced. Maybe they do. If so, I was prejudiced that day, although I didn’t run from this woman out of hatred or any preconceived beliefs about her or others who might be like her. I honestly didn’t know what I was seeing.

I don’t recall what my mother may have said after I ran to her, but knowing her ways later in life my guess is that she explained to me that people come in different sizes, shapes, and colors and that the woman was probably just a hard-working housewife like she was. She probably told me that we are all God’s children, despite any outward or other differences. She lived her religion.

As I grew older I discovered that people sometimes hate those who are different just because they are different. I discovered that there were words like “nigger” and “faggot” that were assigned to others and those words indicated a belief that those people were somehow lesser. As I grew up throughout the 1960s I heard and read news stories of the civil rights struggles in the South, none of which really talked about the racism that also existed in the North and in places like the one where I grew up. Because I was so insulated in so many ways I didn’t recognize that even without black families in our town there were people who didn’t like those “colored folks”. Looking back now I recall confederate flags, hurtful words that were tossed about with abandon, an antipathy toward “other”. I remember a man saying, “There used to be a colored man that lived here once. He’s up to the cemetery now,” almost implying a violent end to the man’s life, though I found out later that early in the 20th century there were several African-American families in the region, so it may have been a reference to a man from one of those long gone families. Or maybe not. I never knew.

I’m not saying that everyone in my town was racist, or even that most were. I believe that most of the people truly believed in the Christian teachings that my mother imparted–that we are all equal under the eyes of God, that love is better than hate, and that we should treat everyone as we would like to be treated ourselves. But there was definitely ignorance about the larger world and a pocket of prejudice there, and certain people who had no room in their lives for anyone who was different. I grew up seeing those people with confederate flags in their windows or decals on their cars and didn’t understand the symbolism behind it. I grew up hearing the “N” word and having no context to understand what it meant or the horrible history behind it. In retrospect I recall hearing racist jokes and I wonder now if I laughed along with them. I hope not, but I can’t say with certainty.

So in the midst of this typical Wisconsin town Bobby Lee McClung came to visit. At the time there was a program that brought black children from poor towns in the South to places like my home town where they stayed with host families. It was an attempt at bridging cultures and teaching us about each other. To my knowledge none of the young white kids from my town were sent to places like Itta Bena, Mississippi to make it a true cultural exchange. It was a one-way trip. Perhaps the townfolk were a little nervous about that possibility. Despite that, there were families that invited and welcomed the visitors from Mississippi. My neighbors, the Allens, hosted Bobbly Lee that summer and so, for the first time in my life, I met a black person. Unlike the time in Hanover I didn’t run in fear. I was genuinely excited to meet him and learn about life in his town.

I normally spent a lot of time with the neighbor kids, so I naturally got to be a part of the experience of Bobby Lee’s visit. He loved basketball and I did, too, so we played a lot of basketball while he was visiting. He had dreams of becoming a professional, though I don’t believe that ever happened. We went to the swimming pool, spent time downtown, and played a lot of other games. And I liked just talking to him. He was a nice kid.

One day a large group of us were getting set to play a game–I don’t remember what it was–and one of the kids started counting. I don’t remember which of my friends was the one counting, but it could have been any one of us. We were all in a circle and he started up, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a nig–“

He stopped. My heart stopped. The world stopped for a moment. A couple of the kids laughed nervously before he caught himself and continued.

“–a tiger by the toe.” I was absolutely embarrassed and ashamed at what had happened and I have never forgotten it. It revealed to me at that moment the insidious nature of racism. It revealed my privilege, even as a relatively poor white person, long before I even knew about the concept of white privilege. It told me that our dominant white culture carries in it an inherent racism that we may not even realize is there unless and until we are confronted with it directly. It told me that I had participated in this insidiousness simply by being willfully oblivious and not questioning the way of the world in that town. I had witnessed it without witnessing it.

That childhood moment and Bobby Lee’s easygoing sweet personality altered my consciousness and moved me to want to better understand why people create “other”. Growing up gay in a straight world added to that as well. I could relate to Bobby Lee having to listen to the counting and the nervous laughter it created when I heard “fag” jokes and the reaction those jokes created. I could not, though, ever fully understand the deep, deep history of overt and covert racism that he and everyone else of color faces on a daily basis. As a gay man I could hide myself. For a person of color there is no hiding.

I am still working on this. I am still learning. My friend, Chris Long, a man who walks the arc of justice as a daily pilgrimage, has taught me much, both directly and indirectly, about privilege and about how easy it is to not see racism because of living as part of the dominant culture. I understand I have even more work to do yet. I have even more things to learn. But I do believe in my mother’s early lessons. I believe that we are all equal under the eyes of God. Whatever work it takes to move us past prejudice and racism in all its manifestations is worth it to move us toward a place where all are equal not only under the eyes of God, but also under the eyes of man.

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Paths to Healing Press Release (2014)

Chris Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurivor, at the first Paths to Healing conference in 2013.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Chris Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurivor, at the first Paths to Healing conference in 2013. Photo by Callen Harty.

For the second consecutive year several Wisconsin organizations have partnered to put together a one-day conference on surviving childhood sex abuse that will be held this year from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel in Madison on Thursday, June 19.

Sponsored by Solidarity with Child Sex Abuse Victims/Survivors, Rape Crisis Center, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), OutReach Inc., Canopy Center, and Proud Theater, the day-long conference will focus on healing and survival, particularly among male survivors, an often underserved population in the sexual assault advocacy community.

Conference organizers are very pleased to present Dr. David Lisak as the keynote speaker. Dr. Lisak is an internationally known and respected researcher, author, and forensic expert who has studied the causes and consequences of interpersonal violence for 25 years. He has conducted workshops in all 50 states, is often called on as an expert witness in court cases, appeared in the film Boys and Men Healing about surviving childhood sex abuse, and is one of the founding members and current Board President of 1in6, a non-profit agency that assists men who were sexually abused as children. In addition to the keynote address he will also conduct one of the day’s breakout sessions and give concluding remarks.

The day will start with socializing and networking from 8:00-8:45 a.m. That will be followed by an introduction by Kelly Anderson, Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center at 8:45 a. m., and then a welcome from Dane County Executive Joseph Parisi. Senator Julie Lassa, sponsor of the Child Victims’ Act, will speak during the luncheon.

Throughout the day there will be breakout sessions geared for both professionals and for survivors. The afternoon will close with a community discussion on responses and ways to help Wisconsin survivors that will be led by leaders of some of the area’s sexual assault advocacy organizations and sponsors of the conference.

Breakout sessions include:
“Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse: Impact and Coping Patterns”—Dr. David Lisak
“Survivor Activism”—Callen Harty
“The Triumph of Forgiveness: Restoring Self-Worth”—Dr. Gayle Reed
“Healing the Children Most Harmed: A Developmental and Attachment Play Therapy Approach”—Rainbow Marifrog and Michelle Ayres
“Proud Theater Workshop”—Brian Wild/Proud Theater
“The Creative Path: Art and Drama Therapy with Survivors of Child Sex Abuse”—Lucy McLellan and Owen Karcher

The conference started last year when survivor Callen Harty decided he wanted to bring the Boys and Men Healing film to Madison. He approached Anderson at the Rape Crisis Center and together they decided to expand that idea into a one-day conference on survival. He then contacted other organizations for sponsorship and support and several decided to partner to put on this important event. Harty, Anderson, Peter Fiala of WCASA, and Angie Rehling of OutReach comprised the planning group this year.

All of the involved organizations are non-profit so funding is still needed to ensure expenses are covered. Donations may be mailed to OutReach, Inc., 600 Williamson Street, Suite P-1, Madison, WI 53703. Checks should be made out to OutReach but must be marked for Paths to Healing to ensure the funds go to the right account.

The cost of the conference is $30 in advance or $40 at the door and covers the entire day, including lunch. For more information on the conference go to the Facebook page “Paths to Healing: Conference on Child Sex Abuse Survival” or to the WCASA website (www.wcasa.org), and click on the events link.

For additional information or questions contact Callen Harty at (608) 469-6686 or Peter Fiala at WCASA at (608) 257-1516.

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Addendum: Further information on breakout sessions

The Next Wave: Emergence of the Wounded
David Lisak, Ph.D.
Board President, 1in6.org

We are in the midst of a momentous cultural shift in our collective perception and definition of masculinity, and that shift is being driven in part by once-silenced men who are now willing to speak out about their experiences of sexual victimization. We are being confronted with, and finally acknowledging, something that has been utterly obvious but which nevertheless has long been denied and actively suppressed: boys, like all children, are vulnerable and therefore are targeted by sexual predators. And they are sexually abused in vast numbers.

There has been a widespread misconception that males are rarely victimized sexually. This misconception has been fostered by society’s deeply-held beliefs about men, masculinity and sexuality, as well as by male victims’ profound reluctance to disclose their victimization. Yet research over the past two decades indicates that the rate of sexual victimization of male children is far higher than society recognizes. Approximately one in six males are sexually abused during childhood. Sexually victimized men comprise one of the most unrecognized and under-served traumatized populations who suffer the full array of trauma symptoms but who rarely receive any help in coping with them.

Driven by an unending series of public scandals – clergy abuse; Penn State; the Citadel; Horace Mann – and by the public disclosures of individual men, once silenced men are now emerging into visibility, and they are seeking help in increasing numbers. Their emergence confronts us with an urgent question: Do we have the infrastructure in place to respond to them?

Survivor Activism
Callen Harty

One of the organizers of the conference Harty is a male survivor who has become a well-known activist in the survivor community. The session uses his experience to explore the many ways of activism, from silent activism to being out there front and center. Not everyone is comfortable speaking in public or in front of television cameras, but there are many, many ways to take action to fight child sex abuse and to help survivors.overcome it. It emphasizes how each survivor can be an activist in many ways, even when they don’t want to identified as a survivor in public. The presentation was first given this past year for Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s Survivors and Allies Task Force and was expanded for Paths to Healing.

The Triumph of Forgiveness: Restoring Self-Worth
Dr. Gayle Reed, RN, PhD

As we talk about the definition of forgiveness and the steps of forgiving we will see that forgiveness has many psychological benefits. Release from pain and from the bondage of the past is an important part of these benefits. In forgiving a person can create a new life narrative or survivor story in which he is no longer defined by the wrongdoing and the wrongdoer’s destructive choices but instead by his/her courageous choice to forgive. The forgiver triumphs by practicing a virtue and choosing what kind of person he will become and in doing so reclaims his self-worth. He can develop a new purpose in life and a new identity. This can bring freedom and even joy. Join us to talk about the possibilities together.

Healing the Children Most Harmed: A Developmental and Attachment Play Therapy Approach
Rainbow Marifrog, MA, LFMT and Michelle Ayres, MS, LFMT

Have you ever worked with a child who was so hard to reach or aggressive that you felt helpless or unsure of how to help them? In this session you will learn about Developmental and Attachment Play Therapy as a model for treating traumatized children and their caregivers. Using real case examples, we will give you tools and resources to better address the fragmentation, developmental delays, and aggressive or dissociative behaviors so common with severely abused children. These tools center on the therapist’s appropriate use of self, how to incorporate safe and joyful touch, as well as how to provide a reparative attachment experience. While our focus is on severely abused children, the tools in this workshop are applicable to all clients – children, teens and adults.

Proud Theater Workshop
Brian Wild, Proud Theater Artistic Director, Executive Director of Art & Soul Productions

Proud Theater is a 15 year old LGBTQ youth theater group that uses art, heart, and activism to change the world through the power of theater and theater arts. Youth in the group create theatrical stories, monologues, spoken word pieces, music, and dance out of the stories of their own lives. The unique approach to creating these pieces can be used by others to explore many different kinds of issues. In the workshop Proud Theater members will guide attendees through the process of sharing stories, finding the common thread in the stories, and creating theatrical pieces from those stories. The process is powerful and cathartic both for those exploring their stories and for the audiences with whom they are ultimately shared.

The Creative Path: Art and Drama Therapy with Survivors of Child Sex Abuse
Lucy McLellan and Owen Karcher

In this 75 minute workshop, participants will explore in both experiential and didactic form the ways in which drama therapy and art therapy techniques bypass cognitive processing and instead access the symbolic and sensorial areas of the brain in which traumatic memories of sexual abuse are stored. Participants will gain concrete skills for clinical use and will learn specific art and drama therapy techniques that can be utilized in group therapy and adapted for individual therapy use.

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Letter to Scott Walker on Same-Sex Marriage

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch at an event at the State Capitol.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch at an event at the State Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Governor Walker,

In today’s paper you are quoted as saying that your position on same-sex marriage is irrelevant. “My position has been clear. I voted in the past. It doesn’t really matter.”

You do realize that you are the governor of our state, right? Historically the governor’s position on all matters of public interest are of import to the citizenry. As the highest elected official in our state you are in a position of power where your words and opinions carry weight. Saying that your position does not matter is, in the vernacular of rural Wisconsin, bullshit.

If you are still adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage, which is where your votes were in the past and where your position was clear, then we the people have the right to know where you stand now. The amendment vote was eight years ago and your position may have evolved just as many other politicians’ opinions have evolved. You were not afraid of expressing your viewpoint when 59% of the population agreed with you on the issue. Why should you be afraid to do so now when 55% of the population disagrees with you. To me this seems like a spineless attempt to maintain your base and not lose those votes in the upcoming election.

Staying silent also indicates that you are trying not to lose possible swing votes from independents and the handful of Democrats who may like some of your other policies. Being governor is not about the next election. It is about leading now. The people want leaders in power, not those who look for the latest trends and then follow along. We want someone who lets us know how they feel about every issue without equivocating or wavering. If you are strongly morally opposed to same-sex marriage that is your right. Tell us. Tell us what you believe. If you have a moral backbone then you would speak about the issue and state your opinions proudly. I am not a politician and I have always stood my moral ground on issues which are of importance to me. Perhaps this is why I am not a politician.

You may say the issue is unimportant to you, but again that would be dodging the issue. It is clearly important to the citizens of this state since the federal ruling last Friday. As the governor it is incumbent upon you to tell us where you truly stand. In this state you can’t straddle both sides of a farm fence without catching yourself on barbed wire.

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Letter to the LaFayette County Clerk

La Fayette County Courthouse, Darlington, Wisconsin.  Photo by Callen Harty.

La Fayette County Courthouse, Darlington, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

On Friday, June 7, Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Wisconsin’s Constitutional same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. She didn’t do a very good job of guidance for what that meant, but by Thursday morning, June 12, all but nine of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. One of the last nine was my home county of La Fayette, so on Thursday I sent the following e-mail to the County Clerk.

“Dear Clerk Bawden,

“I grew up in Shullsburg and am writing to express my deep disappointment that Lafayette County is one of the last nine counties of the 72 in Wisconsin to issue marriage licenses to same-sex partners.

“I don’t know what your politics are, and I don’t really care, but I do know that the attorney advising you is known as a conservative and I fear that his advice is based not on sound policy but on personal convictions. How else can one explain that attorneys and clerks in 63 other counties have decided that it is okay to issue these licenses, particularly when it is a cross section of the state, with Republicans and Democrats issuing the licenses?

“This is not and should not be a political issue. It is a human rights issue. The reason Judge Crabb ruled the same-sex marriage amendment ban unconstitutional is that it clearly infringes upon the rights of one class of citizens. The state and federal governments (and county governments as well) have no legitimate vested interest in preventing one class of citizens from marrying and having the same legal rights as others. This is discrimination in its simplest and most direct form.

“All arguments to the contrary have been repeatedly disproved, such as the ones listed below:

Marriage is solely for procreation. If this were true then you and other county clerks would not issue licenses to those who cannot bear children.

Churches will be forced to perform gay weddings. This is a scare tactic. The government is not forcing churches to perform same-sex weddings–each religion is allowed to define who can marry in their churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship as they always have. Allowing same-sex marriage doesn’t change how churches view marriage unless they make the decision to offer these weddings themselves.

Marriage is best for children. Perhaps a happy marriage is best for children. Husbands and wives who hate each other, beat each other, or in other ways dislike and treat each other badly is not healthy for children, regardless of the orientation of the partners. A household with deep love and respect among all the family members is best for all of those in the family, including children.

Children need both a father and mother. I must admit I really resent this argument because I grew up with a single mother in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when most children had both a mother and father. The reason was that my father died when I was two, but my mother did a fine job of raising me and my siblings by herself. Scientific studies have shown no correlation between well-adapted adults and being raised by a father and mother. What counts the most in every study is the love and understanding shown to children.

Same-sex marriage will destroy traditional marriage. Same-sex marriage has been allowed in Massachusetts for ten years now and it has had no impact on heterosexual marriages. So-called traditional marriage is already destroyed in some ways. More than 50% of marriages end in divorce and many that don’t end in divorce end up with men and women who won’t divorce or whose religions preclude divorce who live out their lives in unhappy and unsatisfying marriages. There are happy lesbian and gay couples and happy straight couples. There are unhappy couples who are lesbian/gay and unhappy couples who are straight. A gay man or lesbian marrying doesn’t affect whether you marry or not or whether you choose a partner you can love the rest of your life.

Same-sex marriage is unnatural. Actually, marriage is unnatural. It is a conception devised by man which historically has done little more than anchor the patriarchy. In addition, marriage has continuously evolved over the millennia. Yes, there are some animals that mate for life (and some humans do, too), but there are far more animals that engage in homosexual behavior. This is scientifically proven.

Homosexuality is morally wrong. This is a personal moral opinion of some people, but in government offices one’s personal moral values do not trump the law. I happen to believe that there is nothing morally wrong with gay people but if you do, that’s your opinion. Still, your opinion should not color your sworn duty to the office you hold.

“I am sure there are other arguments that opponents of same-sex marriage have put forth, but each one can be easily rebutted.

“What it comes down to is this. Governor Walker has long been an opponent of same-sex marriage. When he was in the Assembly he was one of the supporters of the amendment. Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen has also long been an opponent. As Attorney General, he perceives his job as defending the Wisconsin Constitution and the last several years that has included an anti-marriage amendment. He believes it is his job to appeal the judge’s decision and I understand his reasoning, even though I may disagree with it. But the federal courts supersede state courts and state officials and a federal judge ruled that amendment unconstitutional. While she didn’t give great guidance she did rule that it violated the U. S. Constitution. This is why almost every other County Clerk in the state is now issuing licenses to same-sex couples, particularly after the judge refused to stay her own decision and given that the federal appeals court has not weighed in yet. Obviously, if either Judge Crabb or the appeals court issued a stay I would expect all the counties to stop issuing licenses until a further decision is handed down.

“I believe that it is your duty as an elected official to follow the law and currently the same-sex marriage ban has been ruled unconstitutional. I can pretty much guarantee you that despite his threats the Attorney General is not going to start fining County Clerks $10,000 for every marriage license they issue. He would create a political firestorm that would not end well for him or his party and he knows it.

“I would like to believe that the place where I grew up would be one of the leaders in making the right choice, following the law as it stands now, and moving toward acceptance of all its citizens as equal partners in this great society where we are all created equal. I urge you to change course and to join the other 63 counties that have already realized it is the right thing to do. Please don’t be the last holdout.

“Thank you for your attention.”

Several hours later I got the following response:

“Lafayette County’s decision was based on opinion from Corporation Counsel that after a review of Judge Crabbs oral comments on Monday, we do not feel that we can issue these licenses at this time without potentially opening up litigation for issuing invalid licenses. This decision is NOT a political issue To quote another County Clerk, ‘my job is to uphold the laws….. but nobody will tell me what they are’. When I have been given the directive to issue same sex marriage licenses I will be more than happy to do so.”

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Of Course

Brian and me.  Photograph unknown.

Brian and me. Photographer unknown.

Last Friday afternoon Judge Barbara Crabb handed down a ruling that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, opening the door for same-sex couples to start marrying in my home state of Wisconsin. Within a short time couples were gathering at the City/County Building in Madison and at the courthouse in Milwaukee to get their licenses and to get married.

I was on my way to Milwaukee for a Cher concert with Cyndi Lauper as the opening act. While the concert was great I couldn’t help but think that I should be with my life partner, Brian, and that I should be in downtown Madison celebrating with however many people had gathered at the City/County Building or the Capitol to mark the momentous occasion. It was an historic moment in Wisconsin history and instead of being in the middle of it I was at a concert. With a long history of fighting for queer rights I felt bad that I was unable to be there with my queer brothers and sisters (although being at a concert with two gay icons performing seemed somehow oddly appropriate also). I also desperately wanted to be with the one I love most.

Off an on throughout the evening tears welled up in my eyes as I thought of the significance of the court ruling and as I thought of Brian and our long and deep relationship. He and I met in the spring of 1991. Our first kiss was on my birthday on May 27 of that year. We mark June 1 as our anniversary date, which is when we figured we went from dating to being a couple. That was 23 years ago now. In the interim I have spoken about our relationship before the legislature, written about the issue of same-sex marriage, and attended protests and rallies in Madison, San Francisco, and in Washington, DC. I have done this because even if I do not want to marry I believe that I should have the same legal right to do so as my heterosexual counterparts.

This is important: We don’t need marriage to validate our love. It is its own validation. But we need the protection of the law in case one of us gets sick or dies and we need to be considered equal in our society where all are supposed to be created equal. In addition, marriage is one of those important life events that should be shared with friends and family. Weddings are for the purpose of celebrating love and making a public commitment to each other. This is something I’ve wanted to do, even though I know we are eternal partners with or without it.

Years ago, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage friends asked if we were going to go there and get married. We decided to be stubborn and wait until our home state of Wisconsin allowed it. In the last couple of years, with the Tea Party control of our state, we had figured the Badger state might be among the last holdouts. In the meantime I think we both did our best to convince ourselves that it wasn’t important to get married–just in case it never became legal.

At the concert I kept imagining getting home to Brian and on the same day as the historic court decision ask him if he would marry me. I didn’t want to rush downtown to get married. In fact, I didn’t want to rush at all. I was thinking that if we waited two years until our 25th anniversary that the appeals should all be done and the U. S. Supreme Court would by then have made a decision that would allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states. I also figured it would give us time to plan it and to truly make it a celebration where our loved ones could be a part of it. So, I didn’t want to rush out and get married in what might be a small window of opportunity, but I really wanted to ask him to marry me because of the court decision. It was the right time for it.

All through the concert I played out scenarios in my mind about how the proposal might work out and what Brian might say. I imagined walking into the house and just hugging him tightly and then asking, “Will you marry me?” Or maybe, “Do you want to get married?” Or, “Should we do this?” And I kept wondering how he might respond, fearing that he might actually say, “We don’t need to do that.”

As the concert ended I realized I might not make it home before the day was done. My friend Chris and I sat in the parking ramp for about 45 minutes before getting on the road. I knew then that we wouldn’t make it by midnight, but I still wanted to get home quickly so that Brian would still be awake. A couple miles into the trek there was suddenly a traffic jam, with lines of cars in all three lanes as far as one could see, an accident on one side of the road, a man taking a sobriety test on the other. A little further along I saw a sign that said that westbound I-94 was closed and I thought, “This can’t be serious. They can’t have the Interstate closed. And who the hell planned this to coincide with a major concert letting out?” Soon the far left lane closed and the three lanes of traffic funneled slowly into two. Several miles down the road the middle lane closed and traffic funneled into the right lane. A short while later all traffic exited the Interstate, which was indeed closed, and went through parts of Milwaukee, West Allis, Waukesha County, and Pewaukee before reconnecting with the Interstate somewhere near Pewaukee and an hour and a handful of miles after we had left downtown Milwaukee.

Once we got past the construction we were able to move at a good pace and finally we were almost in Madison. To take Chris home I thought the best route would be to take I-90 toward Wisconsin Dells and then take the East Washington Avenue exit and head toward Johnson Street. And, of course, with all the construction going on in Madison the exit ramp to East Washington Avenue was closed and I had to drive several miles up the road to the Highway 51 exit, then come several miles back down Highway 51 to get back to East Washington. By the time I dropped Chris off and got home it was 2:30 in the morning.

Brian was asleep when I opened the bedroom door. He woke up briefly when I entered and as I was still thinking about how to ask him it became clear that he had fallen right back asleep. I lie there wondering how I would approach it in the morning. Should I wake him up in the middle of the night and ask? Should I wait until morning? How should I ask? Is there a better way of saying it? What if he’s thinking of asking me and I spoil that? These things rolled around in my head for an hour and I think I fell asleep somewhere around 3:30 or so.

In the morning Brian and I woke up about the same time, or at least he was awake when I woke up. I couldn’t speak right away. I kept trying out various word choices in my head and when I finally was just about ready to say something the dog came crawling up onto Brian’s stomach demanding attention and petting. A few minutes later as I was about to say something Brian interjected with a thought before I could get my words out. I began to think I would never get to it. And why was I so nervous anyway? The worst that could happen would be that he would say marriage is not important and he didn’t want to do it, but that wouldn’t mean that he loved me any less.

Finally I haltingly came out with it. “So I have to ask you,” I began, and then the dog grabbed his attention again. I waited a moment, then started again, “So I have to ask you, do you want to get married?”

His answer was quick and concise and he didn’t have to think about it all night long as I had. “Of course,” he said, and that was that. And then he added that he was thinking that we should do it on our 25th anniversary. “Of course”, I thought. Of course he would have the same thought as me about it. We are always connected that way.

That morning I posted a status on Facebook that simply said, “He said yes,” even though he didn’t say yes–he said “of course”. I changed my relationship status to engaged, something I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do and which was somehow exhilarating. Within hours a couple hundred people had already liked it. I got an e-mail from one of my more conservative friends noting that we don’t always agree on everything but that he felt that everyone should have the right to marry the person they love.

We have come so far. What was unimaginable when I came out in 1979 is now a reality in what feels like both a short and long 35 years later. It doesn’t change how I feel about Brian or him about me. It just allows us to be a little more secure legally and a little more comfortable in a society that is more accepting than it used to be.

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Love Wins

Handholding.  From a marriage at Madison's City/County Building on the first full day of marriage equality in Wisconsin.

Handholding. From a marriage at Madison’s City/County Building on the first full day of marriage equality in Wisconsin.

On Friday a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage and on Friday night and all day Saturday same-sex couples got married at the City/County building in Madison and at the courthouse in Milwaukee.

On Sunday morning I am still in shock from this. Two days later my joy still cannot be contained. And my vocabulary seems entirely inadequate to describe my feelings.

I understand that there are still court challenges and a stay could be handed down early this week as the Attorney General appeals the ruling. There are multiple cases wending their way through the court system and the Supreme Court could soon make a ruling that will affect all the states.

But for now it isn’t about politics. It is about love.

It is about the dozens of joy-filled couples who gathered to declare their love publicly. It is about children whose parents are now legally married. It is about the paper heart cut-outs and the real hearts filled with passion. Bubbles in the air and couples everywhere with smiles as wide as their faces. Hands held together, heads rested on shoulders. It is about the hugs of friends and embraces of lovers as that love is finally recognized. It is about the tears of joy from those in love, their friends, their families, and even strangers. It is about love, which really is the only thing that matters in the end.

Tomorrow we can discuss politics. We can argue about whether the state should be involved in marriage at all. We can plan the next moves in the political arena. Today let’s just take it in, savor the history that we are living through, and in a world where there is too much violence and hatred let’s celebrate the fact that there are those who love each other. This is a powerful moment. How often is love at the center of the news cycle? Let’s enjoy it while we can. When love wins we all win.

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