Panelists discuss marriage equality

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April 15, 2015
By Brad Allen

The long-debated issue of marriage equality was discussed in the Marriage Equality Roundtable Discussion Panel on Wednesday, April 8 at noon in the UC room 259. The panel was moderated by LGBT coordinator Cindy Konrad.

The panel was comprised of Development Director of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Kristin Hansen, Dean of UW-Whitewater College of Education and Professional Studies Katy Heyning, Midwest Regional Manager of Family Equality Council Kim Simes and UW-W Director of Human Resources and Diversity Judi Trampf.

I will always be the girl with the gay best friend, Hansen said. Sometimes people notice a transgender person and question if they are a man or woman.

“There is no need to compartmentalize. There is a human being in front of you, why do people need to know if they are a man or a woman to interact with them on a daily basis?” Hansen said.

Two of the panelists, Heyning and Trampf, are a legally-married couple. Their story and involvement in the issue of marriage equality is an example of how far many LGBT couples must go, and are willing to go, in order to get married.

In 2002, Heyning and Trampf were on a trip in New Orleans. Heyning experienced a seizure and was admitted into the emergency room, however, was not able to use her health care plan. The nurses also denied Trampf admittance into the emergency room.

“The only way I got back into the emergency room was through someone who was a little more gay-friendly,” Trampf said.

The nurses initially insisted on Heyning’s brother making the insurance and health decisions for her.
“It was humiliating,” Trampf said. “We’d been together for fifteen years, and they were ignoring me.”
The couple filed a lawsuit over the issue and received a call from the American Civil Liberties Union about receiving support. Heyning and Trampf were a part of four couples who filed a lawsuit. Their case made it to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court refused to hear their case.

Despite their case being dismissed by the Supreme Court, Heyning and Trampf were granted the right to be married.

“Usually lawsuits take three years, but theirs happened really fast. It was boom, done, legal,” Hansen said.

The panelists all described the court rulings between themselves, the judges, ACLU and anti-LGBT groups as a “smack down.”

“For the ACLU case, a big part of it was timing,” Hansen said. “Society wasn’t ready.”

The first lawsuit for marriage equality rights ever to be filed in the United States was in 1971.
In one case, a lesbian woman in New York was widowed and received no federal inheritance. She was also asked to pay more than $300,000 in federal taxes, according to Hansen.

Wisconsin has some of the most punitive punishments in the United States. Persons involved in a non-recognized marriage face nine months in prison and a fine of $10,000, according to Hansen.

Heyning and Trampf were initially concerned about getting married and living in Wisconsin. They were told to do this with their eyes wide open. Only one instance of harassment has occurred for the two of them. While driving on the interstate, a woman driving beside them yelled at the couple for having an ACLU bumper sticker.

The battle for equal rights can also negatively affect the children of a LGBT person, whether in the form of  lack of proper health care or the inability to list the step-parent as a legal guardian.

“When kids share their stories about what they go through every day because their parents don’t have certain rights, it stops people in their tracks,” Simes said.

Some children have lost their biological parent and are forced into foster-care because their step-parent is unable to get custody, Trampf said.

More information and help is soon to come from Kinsey Morrison, a child’s rights activist and avid LGBT supporter, according to Simes.

“There are places I won’t go with my family because legally it’s not safe,” Simes said.

A law is being drafted in Kentucky which allows high school counselors to refuse to talk to a LGBT student who is threatening suicide, according to Trampf.

In some states, LGBT couples can be evicted from their house and are unable to share even a fishing license, according to Konrad.

“UW-Whitewater connects us all,” Heyning said, “This is a very safe space.”

The panelists encourage students and members of the community to ask questions about the issues of LGBT marriage equality. There are no bad questions; you will not offend anyone by genuinely asking a question, the panelists said collectively.