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From the March 9, 2004 JOURNAL OF THE HOUSE:
Rep. Wenke, having reserved the right to explain his nay vote on the proposed marriage amendment, made the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker and members of the House:

I am grateful for this opportunity to clarify my position on the proposed marriage amendment. I wish to thank The Kalamazoo Gazette and Julie Mack for a two-hour interview that resulted in an accurate and honest report. Other individuals who have made no attempt to speak with me have misrepresented my stance. For more than 30 years I have been a husband and father and a business owner. I have spent eight years as a Kalamazoo county commissioner and have completed one year as a state representative. None of these experiences, either singularly or collectively, has received as much examination as my position on the marriage protection amendment.

I do not support gay marriage. I do not endorse using the word marriage to define a relationship between members of the same sex. I do, however, support the creation and recognition of a legal arrangement between same sex couples. I am not alone in my conclusion as Governor Granholm and about half of all Americans favor civil unions for homosexuals. I cannot support the marriage protection amendment because the clear intent of this amendment is to discriminate against a specific segment of our population – that being gay men and women. This amendment will prevent same sex couples from forming a legal union and therefore deny them the same benefits granted to their heterosexual counterparts. I will not vote to discriminate against any group of citizens. The Constitution of Michigan should not be amended for the purpose of limiting access to equal rights.

Proponents of this amendment sincerely believe they are protecting marriage from its current rapid decline as an integral element of our society. I respect their position. It has never been my intention to preach to others on this issue. In fact, my focus in the legislature, as Chair of the House Tax Policy Committee, has been equitable taxation, employment and the economy. My position on this amendment, while unpopular with some, is a matter of conscience, research and a thorough examination of the issues regarding homosexuality. I have also gleaned much information from acquaintances and friends who are gay – including my best childhood friend. Many families have homosexual members – most extended families do. Are we to believe these family members are less valued? Do they pose a threat to the family institution?

I believe that homosexuality is a state that generally we do not choose, but with which we are born. Same sex attraction is based in human biology. This is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Christian Reformed Church in which I was raised. We do not choose our sexual preference when we attain the age of puberty. I ask, ‘Why would anyone choose to be gay when, in our society, that choice usually brings great heartache to the individual and his or her family?’

People who have a religiously based position against homosexuality will have a difficult time acknowledging gay men and women as deserving of equal rights. The Constitution is not the place to implement discrimination against those with whom we have a religious difference. With good reason, our country has embraced the concept of separation of church and state. I will not remove a single brick from the wall that separates the church from the state.

As a representative, I have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Michigan. That oath requires me to protect the rights of all citizens, including homosexuals. I believe homosexual partners are entitled to health benefits, social security benefits and the protections afforded by estate planning. Amending the Constitution for the purpose of excluding specific groups of individuals is unacceptable. Prominent conservatives, including George Will, oppose gay marriage but still do not support amending the Constitution to deal with this issue. The Constitution should advance, preserve and protect the rights we cherish and not be used as an instrument to withhold rights.

I represent all the citizens of my district including homosexuals, and it is my responsibility to ensure justice and equality for all. I cannot walk out of the Capital Building – where the American flag, a symbol of American freedom and justice waves overhead – having voted for an amendment that is clearly discriminatory.”

Rep. Drolet, having reserved the right to explain his nay vote on the proposed marriage amendment, made the following statement:

“Mr. Speaker and members of the House:

Back in junior high school we used to play a game at recess called ‘smear the queer’. The game didn’t have any real rules but went like this; an unpopular boy would be targeted by a group of other boys and labeled ‘queer’. The group of boys would then chase down and surround the victim, ending the game by piling on top of the targeted boy. Rarely was any real harm done physically, but some children feared recess because of the game, and other boys felt they had to play in order to avoid being targeted as ‘queer’. I am ashamed to say that I sometimes joined in the game. But then I grew up, and I forgot about the game.

What reminded me of the game was the Committee on Family and Children Services hearing held two weeks ago on the resolution before us now. This resolution, if adopted and voted into the Constitution, would have longstanding and significant impact on the lives of many gay and lesbian citizens of Michigan. One might expect that a proposed constitutional amendment dealing with human rights would be carefully evaluated by lawmakers who would also solicit testimony from the citizens of the state. Sadly, that was not the case at the committee hearing. The committee allowed only 40 minutes of public testimony. The great majority of citizens who drove to Lansing from throughout Michigan were not permitted to speak. Regardless of your position on the resolution before us, what happened in that committee hearing was demeaning and dismissive to the citizens of the state of Michigan.

What role should government play in marriage? Certainly not to regulate or enforce any person’s relationship with God. Our country’s first immigrants came to these shores to escape governments that regulated their relationship with God. Nor can the government regulate or enforce the personal and private emotions, thoughts and intimate actions between two people.

Marriage is primarily a contract between two people and, if they choose, God. Society, as in neighbors, friends and family, may choose to accept two people’s relationship or reject it as morally invalid regardless of any decree from politicians or bureaucrats.

The only role for government, if it is to be in the marriage business at all, is to enforce and regulate the contract of marriage in its’ civil capacity. The crux of the amendment before us is to prohibit the state from recognizing a voluntary contract made between two adults. Why would we single out some people for unequal contracting rights?

Proponents claim that homosexual people need to be singled out for unequal contracting rights in order to protect the institution of marriage. Let me see if I have this right: Forty years of skyrocketing divorce rates and nobody proposes a constitutional amendment to deal with divorce. Thirty years of recognizing ‘common-law’ marriages and nobody proposes a constitutional amendment to deal with people who ‘shack-up’. The USA Today reported just this past Friday that out-of-wedlock births have tripled over the past 30 years; but no one has proposed we amend the constitution to prohibit premarital sex. Decreasing stigmatization of infidelity, yet no constitutional amendment. In 1994, Bill Bennett said the following to the Christian Coalition, ‘In terms of damage to the children of America, you cannot compare what the homosexual movement has done to what divorce has done. It is not even close.’

But for some reason, gay marriage is such a threat that an amendment to the constitution is required. You know what I think? We have found a minority that can be made into a scapegoat so that we don’t have to seriously address the detrimental actions of the majority.

‘It’s not the log in OUR eye, but the splinter in THEIRS! It’s not OUR fault that marriage is a troubled institution, it is other people’s fault!’ That is how this amendment can be interpreted. The heterosexual majority would never propose to use government force to prohibit divorce, infidelity or ‘shacking-up’ because those are things that many heterosexual people choose to do.

But loving and committing to someone of the same sex is something that only a small minority chooses to do. So it is easy to blame them. We are back in the playground still playing ‘smear the queer’.
Allow me to make my position on human rights very clear; I support equal constitutional rights for each and every individual Michigan citizen. I do NOT support group rights, special rights based on any factor, race or gender preferences, or special protections such as ‘hate-crime’ laws. Every citizen deserves true equal protection under the law.

Americans have fought too long and too hard to eliminate constitutionally mandated discrimination against ethnic groups, women, and other minorities. Already, polls show younger Americans are much more prone to support equal treatment under the law for homosexuals than older Americans. These young Americans, and history, will not judge this constitutional amendment well.

I ran for the state legislature because I believe that the size, scope and cost of government should be reduced. It is not the proper role of government to interfere with peoples’ relationships, nor to discourage or encourage love or commitments between consenting adults who harm no one. This amendment is designed to demonstrate governmental disapproval of some people’s relationships and will do nothing to protect or strengthen the marriages of heterosexual people.

Of course, initiatives like this amendment aren’t new. Efforts to single out gays and lesbians for unequal treatment have been proposed and often adopted many times in the last 30 years. Back in 1978, a conservative state senator in California named John Briggs began an initiative to prohibit homosexuals from holding jobs as teachers. Now, I grant that this was California, but remember it was also 1978 and early polls showed 2 – 1 support for the Briggs Initiative. But something unexpected happened in August of that year, as the initiative headed toward a vote. The Governor of California wrote a newspaper editorial opposing the Briggs Initiative on the grounds that it singled out a group of people for unequal treatment under the law. The Governor wrote that the initiative had, ‘the potential of infringing on basic rights of privacy and perhaps even constitutional rights.’ Who was this ‘activist’ governor? Was it Governor Jerry ‘Moonbeam” Brown? No, that governor was named Ronald Reagan. Governor Reagan’s opposition to the Briggs Initiative is credited with turning the tide and when the final votes were cast, the Briggs Initiative was defeated. Writer Jonathan Rauch wrote in The New York Times that ‘Mr. Reagan single-handedly turned the tide against the measure.’

For Reagan, on the cusp of launching his bid for President of the United States and asking for Republican delegate votes in Alabama and Mississippi, opposing the Briggs Initiative was a breathtakingly courageous act of principle. I will always admire and be inspired by Ronald Reagan’s unswerving commitment to principle; whether standing up to an evil Soviet Empire, or standing against antigay ballot initiatives.

We don’t know where Ronald Reagan, if he had all of his faculties, would stand on the resolution before us today. He may have been in support. But before you assert that he would be, listen to what best-selling conservative author Dinesh D’Souza writes in his biography of Reagan, Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, a biography highly praised by Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley and P.J. O’Roarke. D’Souza writes, ‘Reagan’s views on homosexuality were not entirely compatible with those of his evangelical Christian supporters or with those of the gay rights community. Before he became President, he once confessed his belief that homosexuality is a “tragic illness”…Yet, as we might expect, Reagan knew lots of gays in Hollywood, and he and his wife socialized with people who were avowedly homosexual. Reagan did not support state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals as a group.’

Reagan Biographer Lou Cannon, who covered Reagan as a reporter for the Washington Post and San Jose News for 36 years wrote in his book Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power about Reagan’s views on gay issues. Cannon, when referring to the later accounts of gay couples, friends of Nancy’s that would spend the night with their partners at the White House, wrote, ‘The sentiment about Reagan’s tolerance is accurate – Reagan would a decade later play a pivotal and courageous role in defeating a ballot initiative that discriminated against homosexual teachers.’

Again, I stress that I have no idea what President Reagan would do or say about this resolution before us today, if he could be here with us. But I do know that the number of well-known and highly regarded conservatives who oppose both state and federal constitutional amendments to define marriage is growing rapidly. Those already on the record opposing such amendments include: George Will, William Safire, Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, Lyn Nofzinger who was President Reagan’s press secretary, commentator Andrew Sullivan, David Horowitz, Republican Rep. Bob Simmons, and a growing number of elected Republicans and conservative writer and talk show hosts.
My friends, today, before us we have an important choice. We can vote with the courage of our convictions, or we can vote out of fear.

I urge my colleagues to reject scapegoating, political expediency and hypocrisy. Please stand up for equal protection under the law and for human equality by voting ‘No’ on this proposed amendment. And may the venomous serpent of discrimination and unequal treatment of people never again slither through the doors of this chamber. Thank you.”

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