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.”

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. 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. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on 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 started as an actor, writer, and director in 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. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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