Letter to Scott Walker on the Movement Toward Equality

Standing on the Side of Love.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Standing on the Side of Love. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Governor Walker,

You were quoted recently as saying that you sense no “significant movement” toward legalizing gay marriage in Wisconsin and you justified fighting whatever movement there is by stating that as an elected official it is your duty to uphold the Constitution.

So I must ask a few questions and point out a few details.

Is upholding the Wisconsin Constitution the reason you supported amending it back in 2006? Previously it had guaranteed equal rights to all Badger citizens, but the amendment you supported changed it to specifically prevent same-sex partners from marrying in the state of Wisconsin. It singled out one class of citizens for legalized discrimination, despite it clearly being in violation of the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. Not only did the Wisconsin amendment prohibit same-sex partners from marrying it disallowed anything “substantially similar” to marriage. It became the most regressive anti-marriage amendment in the nation. It was also the first time in our state’s history that the Constitution was amended to deny rights rather than to expand them and you supported that. You should be ashamed. You allowed your personal opinions and religious beliefs to trump your duty to the Constitution and to protecting all citizens of this great state.

Was your deep and abiding respect for the Constitution also the reason you had your palace guards at the Capitol arrest more than 400 singers for expressing their political points-of-view in song? Were you not aware that we enjoy the right to political speech by the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the right to petition the government for the redress of grievances? Just this week a judge threw several cases out of court by citing the arrests as unconstitutional. Have you called yet to thank the judge for protecting the Constitutional rights you hold so dear? If not, you should do that soon. Why would you have allowed the Capitol Police to continue their illegal arrests if you cared so much about the Constitution and your duty to uphold it? Simply put, you allowed your political agenda to override any concerns about the legality of the police actions. You seem to have a habit of disregarding the Constitution when it is convenient or to your advantage.

Aside from your supposed reverence for the Constitution your assertion that there is no “significant movement” toward marriage equality is an outright lie. It is simply not true. You may have learned the Karl Rove technique of repeating a lie until people believe it, but nobody is buying it on this issue. Nine states in the last year alone legalized marriage equality. Ten years ago not a single state allowed same-sex marriages. Illinois passed a marriage equality bill last year and when it takes effect in June there will be 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow it, with legal decisions in New Mexico and Utah temporarily on hold while the courts decide on citizens’ lawsuits against those states. Other states are also considering passage of similar bills. In addition Scotland just passed a marriage equality law and joined Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Iceland, parts of Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, and Wales. You say there is no movement toward marriage equality? Really? You are either lying or misinformed. Even the United States Supreme Court is clearly moving closer to it with their recent decisions affirming the rights of gays and lesbians in California to marry, along with the decision to strike down the clearly discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

Perhaps you were only considering marriage equality in Wisconsin when you spoke. Or perhaps you were only considering your limited world-view. When the Legislature passed the anti-marriage amendment and then presented it to the public as a pro-family idea rather than as the discriminatory anti-gay amendment that it really was supporters of the amendment managed to convince 59% of the voters that the amendment should be passed according to an article in the Sheboygan Press. However, the article goes on to note that only six years later, by October of 2012, a Marquette University poll showed that 44% of Wisconsinites supported marriage equality. A mere one year later, by October of 2013, that number was up to 53%, the first time a majority of the state’s citizens expressed support for same-sex marriage and a nine percent increase in one year. Perhaps you didn’t take statistics before you suddenly left Marquette University, but those numbers show a significant movement toward marriage equality. What stands in the way is the anti-marriage amendment that you supported so strongly half a decade ago. I presume that you would be aware that there will be a movement to overturn that amendment. However, I realize I should probably not presume any awareness on your part. The reason you are not seeing it now is that everyone knows that as long as you and your Tea Party associates are in control of the governor’s office, statehouse, and courts, it will have to wait. But it will happen. You, sir, are on the wrong side of history.

I do not need you to approve of me personally. If you choose not to grow as the rest of the country has done that is your choice. As for your personal beliefs you are welcome to live in a world of your choosing. But as the governor of my state part of your job is to ensure that I will be afforded the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities as all other Wisconsinites and Americans. As the head of our state you should be the one taking the lead to protect all citizens and to guarantee the rights of all, particularly minorities. If you can’t take the lead at least step out of the way of progress and let the rest of us move Wisconsin forward.

Post Script: After sending the above letter to Scott Walker two more events of significance occurred in Wisconsin. The ACLU, on behalf of four Wisconsin couples, sued Governor Scott Walker and the State of Wisconsin, among others, over the constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and civil unions in the state. On February 13 the Democrats in the Legislature introduced a bill to overturn that very same amendment. While the prospects of success on overturning the amendment are slim due to Republican majorities in both houses and holding the governorship it is likely that the law suit (or another one in one of the many other states being sued) will be decided by the Supreme Court and force the issue on Wisconsin judicially. It seems clear the Supreme Court understands the historical shift and is little by little moving toward marriage equality for all. One of these cases will likely serve the LGBT community the same way that the Supreme Court’s Loving vs. Virginia case overturned laws against interracial marriage in 1967. And still, Scott Walker believes that there is no “significant movement” toward marriage equality. It further demonstrates how out of touch he is with the pulse of Wisconsin citizens.

Addendum: On 4/24/14 (two and a half months after my letter to the Governor) I received this sincere and heartfelt e-mail response, clearly written by the Governor after careful consideration of my words to him.
“Dear Concerned Citizen:
“Thank you for contacting me regarding same-sex marriage. I appreciate your thoughts on this important issue.
“In a 2006 referendum, the voters of Wisconsin approved an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution. Article XII, Constitutional Amendments Section 13 currently states, ‘Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.’ To change this provision in the Constitution, Wisconsin voters would need to pass a referendum doing so.
“I appreciate your input on this issue and will keep your thoughts in mind.
“Sincerely,
“Governor Scott Walker”

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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2 Responses to Letter to Scott Walker on the Movement Toward Equality

  1. Kevin Lynch says:

    Callen, should we assume Walker never responded to your letter? If so, the silence of imperious political privilege is deafening. But then, considering our governor never graduated from college, perhaps you were a bit too nuanced for him. — Kevin Lynch

    • Callen Harty says:

      He has never responded to one of my letters. By the way, I didn’t finish college either. I quit in my junior year and got so involved in my theatrical life I never took the time to go back.

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