JANESVILLE — Julaine Appling believes the U.S. Supreme Court should leave decisions about gay marriage to the states.
“Our position is that if the court is doing what it should be doing—upholding the law and not wandering into judicial activism—then Prop. 8 will be upheld,” said Appling, head of the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action.
That’s not the way the Rev. Lora Whitten sees it.
Whitten is the minister at the Edgerton Congregational United Church of Christ and is in a long-term, committed relationship with another woman. They have two children.
“What we are looking at, as a whole, are civil liberties,” Whitten said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue of California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Today, the court is scheduled to take up the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that also defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
Supporters of gay marriage hope the court will run overturn Prop. 8 and rule broadly, saying that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry violates the constitution.
Opponents hope the court will uphold Prop. 8 and leave the issue to the states.
Appling said her group is “cautiously optimistic” that Prop. 8 will survive.
She feels the same way about the Defense of Marriage Act.
“The challenge is that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional,” Appling said. “If you’re a strict constitutionalist, you believe that the court should uphold what Congress enacts.”
Appling pointed out that when the Defense of Marriage Act was enacted, “a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate passed it and President (Bill) Clinton signed it into law.”
The Obama administration has refused to uphold the law, Appling said.
Some pundits have said the courts are moving too fast on an issue still working its way through the public debate.
Whitten doesn’t agree.
“It doesn’t feel that way because I’m caught in the midst of it. If I wasn’t, then maybe I’d think, ‘Oh, yeah, these things are moving so fast,’” Whitten said.
For Whitten, it’s about benefiting from the basic protections marriage provides, including the legal rights of a married person to:
-- See his or her spouse or children in the hospital.
-- Inherit as a domestic partner.
-- Benefit from the tax advantages of marriage.
-- Be part of a spouse’s health insurance plan.
Whitten and her partner had to see a lawyer and create power of attorney for health care just in case one of them had to go to the hospital.
Whitten also had to go through the adoption process to officially become the parent to her child.
Those might seem like small things, but to lesbian and gay couples, each step is a slight, a reminder that they don’t have the same rights.
Whitten’s partner’s employer is one of the few that recognize domestic partnerships for insurance coverage.
For Whitten, marriage is a commitment of love between two adults. That creates a cohesive family unit, something valuable.
“No one can keep us from having a sacred relationship,” Whitten said.
Whitten described Edgerton—both the community and the church—as “welcoming and wonderful.”
The national synod of the United Church of Christ has an “opening and affirming” stance toward gay marriage, but each congregation is autonomous. Whitten’s church in Edgerton and the First Congregational Church in Janesville are going through the education process that will lead to a congregational vote on the issue.
Appling and her organization believe government should limit marriage to one man and one woman and that those legal rights should not be extended .
“Government is appropriately involved in marriage—issuing licenses, establishing laws— because government cares about the next generation of taxpayers, cares about the next generation of the workforce. It cares about creative genius, all of the things that perpetuated a prosperous society,” Appling said. “What’s best for kids is to be in a family with a married mom and dad.”
It’s not the number of parents, but the number of parents and their genders, she said.
For Whitten, it’s a matter of love and compassion—and equity under the law.