UW Election Eye is on the road for three weeks, covering politics in the heartland of America. In Wisconsin, we found the same currents on same-sex marriage as we see in Washington. In Madison, we met a pastor whose 7th and 8th grade Confirmation students are writing to politicians advocating for same-sex marriage.
MADISON, Wisc. — Same-sex marriage is on the ballot in Washington state this fall. In this upper-Midwest state, same-sex relations last faced voters in 2009 when a domestic partnership plan was passed as part of Wisconsin’s biennial budget bill.
Reverend Susan Schneider, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison, wants to see marriage, not just partnerships, on the ballot — and soon.
Schneider’s junior high school Confirmation class at Trinity Lutheran is writing dozens of letters to political officials pushing for marriage equality.
“God loves everyone,” read the letters we saw. “One way we see a need for change in our state and in our world is that not everyone can marry the person they love…We want it to be a better state for all people.”
Domestic partnerships have been legally recognized in Wisconsin for three years, but same-sex marriage is banned under a 2006 constitutional amendment passed by voters. A pre-existing statute from the 1970s is also in place in which gay Wisconsinites who marry outside of the state can be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned.
Schneider believes marriage is a modern-day matter of civil rights. I met with the Reverend in her bright, spacious office on the upper floor of Trinity Lutheran. She was vibrant and friendly, donning bright pink fingernails, cropped, blonde hair and a hearty, infectious laugh. I sat on her flowered couch scattered with papers.
I asked her about her recent 15-minutes of fame when she was featured in a New York Times article about President Barack Obama’s announcement of support for same-sex marriage. She said she’s received the occasional angry letter, but didn’t appear too bothered.
“My favorite line in a letter was, ‘Ms. Schneider, you are a heretic and you should know this,'” the Reverend said, grinning.
Schneider’s been a pastor for 10 years. She came to Madison one year ago after serving at a church in Iowa where she conducted two, symbolic same-sex ceremonies.
At Trinity Lutheran, her congregation is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, a faction of the Lutheran church that openly allows gay clergy to serve. With the exception of a few outspoken conservatives, Schneider said most of her congregation leans liberal.
Statistics show a growing majority of Americans would vote in support of same-sex marriage — yet the majority of Wisconsinites don’t. In an August 2011 poll, just 34% of Wisconsin residents surveyed support same-sex marriage, significantly lower than the national average of 53%. For comparison, 55% of Washington state voters in a recent poll said they would vote to uphold an approved same-sex bill.
This disparity is why Schneider urges her students to write letters.
“I think this issue lines up with other issues, it’s a question of rich or poor, children or adults, power and manipulation,” she said. “I think this one falls under that same camp, who’s got the power, who makes the decisions.”
Schneider applauded President Obama’s recent announcement of support for gay marriage.
“I think he’s riding the popular tide, but I kind of don’t care,” she said. “I still think it serves a good purpose — he is really able to say that because this is how young people feel.”
She points to youth as the wave of the future.
“I think the youth will make it happen,” she said. “I think this will crumble state by state, until eventually everyone says, ‘oh well, this is so stupid,’ and it will just become a non-issue.”
Voters this fall in Washington will get a chance to have their say.