I have a ton of respect for retiring Republican State Sen. Dale Schultz.
(A boat dock on Lake Ellen, WI) “Like many Wisconsin families, I’m taking time with mine this week to enjoy our annual summer vacation at a cabin on a lake. However, I felt it important to pen a few words to my constituents as I reflect on the events of last week regarding marriage equality.
Earlier this year in my farewell address to the Wisconsin State Senate, I spoke of the real enemies we face in our daily struggles – the greatest being fear.
‘We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.
When we take away our masks, and face each other for who and what we are, without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to make progress.’
One example of what I was referring to is the issue of marriage equality.
While the issue has long faced us, it was a little over a decade ago that it really began to crescendo reaching a peak in 2006 during my time as Senate Majority Leader.
I advanced the Defense of Marriage Amendment to the senate floor and voted for it for two main reasons. First, at the time, a majority of Wisconsinites supported it including my own constituents. At the time, it also represented my personal views.
I said then, as now, there are good and thoughtful people on both sides of this challenging issue. Respectful disagreement is both healthy in a democracy and makes for an honest debate.
Over the past decade brave and courageous individuals have stepped forward publicly to share with friends, family, and co-workers who they are.
These individuals have ranged from celebrities like actor Neil Patrick Harris, to college and now NFL football player Michael Sam, to NBA basketball player Jason Collins, and most personally our own friends, neighbors and family.
More often than not, we realize knowing someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t change how we view them, what we think of them, or how much we love them. In fact, usually neither the person coming out nor the person hearing the news wants anything to change, and that’s as it should be.
Laws that demoralize, discriminate and dehumanize fellow Americans simply for being who they are require reexamination.
I would like to think that we, as a society, possess a willingness and ability to evolve when presented with new facts and evidence.
I think most often the greatest effect on a political cause isn’t a rally, protest, petition or even a vote. The most effective results come from the relationships we build and possess with those around us.
Over the last decade those relationships have been made stronger and better because of the courageousness of those we already knew stepping forward to be who they are. That has had a true effect, and today a majority of Wisconsinites support marriage equality largely because of someone we know.
Whether we all agree in our personal worlds of faith, or even what’s comfortable in our own eyes, a clear majority now feel people are entitled to basic rights and privileges regardless of orientation because it most likely affects someone we know.
Perhaps one of my favorite country artists, Willie Nelson put it best in a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone. He said, ‘I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference. People are people where I came from.’ On marriage equity, Nelson added with appropriate humor, ‘[gay people] should be just as miserable as the rest of us.’
When we take away our masks, and face each other for who and what we are, without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to make progress.”