Still Fighting for a Fair Wisconsin

With the amendment passed, Fair Wisconsin’s Eva Shiffrin outlines what steps come next in achieving equality

One year ago, Wisconsin wrote discrimination into its constitution. What does this mean for the future of LGBT activism, advocacy, and progress? It can only mean one thing: We must keep fighting. The loss was heartbreaking to many. Thousands of Wisconsin citizens volunteered countless number of hours. People stretched into their pocketbooks and made personal sacrifices. The energy and momentum was palpable. On November 8, the disappointment was also palpable. Now, one year later, it is time to put the loss behind us. We must convert our sadness into firm resolve and resolute determination.

And there is plenty of work to do. Forward progress is possible. It is imperative to show Wisconsin that equality still matters. It is also important to build on the efforts of the last two years and show people that relationship recognition and family recognition for same sex couples benefits our families, our children, and our communities.

We are uniquely poised to create positive change. We are one of the strongest LGBT advocacy organizations in this country. We have thousands of active supporters who aren’t afraid to make their voices heard in the state legislature. We have the support of key legislative allies. We have shown that we are a force to be reckoned with. Over 99 communities all over Wisconsin voted NO. As a result, we are in a position to see change within the next year.

The first indication of our strength came when Governor Doyle put domestic partner benefits for state employees in the budget. Instead of retreating from our issues, the Governor stood with our community and spoke for fairness. By the time this article is printed, we shall know the results of these efforts.

The next indicator of fairness is the overwhelming support we have received for our fall legislative efforts to establish a statewide domestic partner registry for same sex couples in Wisconsin. This bill is our declaration that we will not stop fighting for relationship recognition. This bill shows our commitment to stand firm and demand that families be afforded protections.

The rights we seek though our domestic partner registry are basic, fundamental, human rights. We are asking for hospital visitation rights. We are asking that a person be able to choose who is at their side when they are scared, sick, and in need of love and comfort. We are asking for the right to decide to whom you wish to convey your wordly possessions after death. And we are asking for the right to allow your last wishes regarding your burial arrangements to be honored after death. All of these rights are extremely personal, heartbreaking, and important. These rights are routinely extended to spouses in recognition that these are the moments when you need your loved ones at your side the most and when your life partner is in the best place to assist you in carrying out your wishes.

One member of our community told us a story. That story involved a medical emergency. She is a lesbian, and came home to find her partner unconscious. Terrified, she called 911. As many will describe who have been in that situation, the fear of loss shot like adrenaline through her body and the sense of helplessness followed soon after. The paramedics arrived and placed her partner in the ambulance. She followed the ambulance to the hospital in the car. When she arrived, she was told that she couldn’t be with her partner during this emergency because she wasn’t a family member and had no legal entitlement to be there or even receive information about the status of her unconscious partner.

Within moments, she was relegated from partner to nobody. She went from being the most important person in her partner’s life to a stranger in the waiting room. The helplessness she felt at her partner’s medical condition was turned into despair as she was thrust into an information void. She was alone and felt that she had abandoned her partner when her partner needed her most.

Luckily, her partner’s mother arrived and gave the necessary permission for her to be with the person she loved most in the world. Also luckily, her partner recovered. However, this story should remind us of the human face behind the rights we seek.

The extension of these rights should not be caught up in partisan politics. They should not become entrenched in the so-called fight over values. The rights we seek are based on universal values of love, caring, commitment, and compassion. These are universal values and these rights should be extended universally. By asking our legislators to support these rights, we expose those who don’t for what they are.

It is also important to continue our progress toward a pro-fairness majority in our state capital. We would not be where we are now if we had secured a pro-fairness majority in our capital two years ago. Our prospects on this front are extremely promising. Last year, several key legislative seats converted from anti-fairness seats to pro-fairness seats. We stand ready to convert even more. We must begin now to ensure that a year from now, we have a pro-fairness legislature.

They say change is inevitable. It is inevitable, but only when we ensure that it is inevitable. We hasten the day when progress is made by making that day today. How many days must be spent as a stranger in the waiting room of the hospital instead of by the side of a loved one before we work to turn the tide again?

Let’s join together and make that day today. Let’s start with this bill and then move on to the next. When election time comes, let’s show that we won’t support candidates who don’t support fairness.

We can’t let the amendment defeat or define us. The best way to do that is to continue to fight for a Fair Wisconsin.