Amendment controversy splits state
September 28, 2006
In the weeks before Nov. 7, Wisconsin voters will hear left- and right-wing groups pleading for support on many issues.
One of those issues has been a focal point of nationwide controversy — the marriage amendment.
There are currently 40 states that have Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA), according to DOMA Watch, a legal source for defense of marriage acts information. These laws allow states the right not to recognize a same-sex marriage or union.
Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a DOMA bill in 2003 that would have added Wisconsin to that list of states.
According to the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin (FRI-WI), the current bill, known as Senate Joint Resolution 53, was re-introduced to the state legislature in 2004 by Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin. It passed through the state’s Assembly and Senate in 2004 and 2005 before voters could decide whether to make this amendment part of Wisconsin law.
The amendment will ask voters:
“Shall section 13 of article XIII of the constitution be created to provide that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state and that a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state?”
The interpretation of the amendment’s wording has organizations such as A Fair Wisconsin on edge.
“This amendment is affecting a lot more than just homosexual couples,” said UW-River Falls senior Lacey Felmlee, co-chair of the Gay-Straight Alliance and campus director for Students for a Fair Wisconsin.
Felmlee said the wording in the second part of the amendment should be the focal point for voters. She said that if the amendment does pass it will take away benefits from all unmarried couples.
“I really think that they should really take a hard look at the facts,” Felmlee said. “The general public should realize that this is only hurting the heterosexual population.”
Felmlee said that marriage for same-sex couples is already illegal in Wisconsin.
“It’s not really going to affect homosexual couples because they don’t have any of these rights in the first place,” Felmlee said.
The FRI-WI disagrees with that belief. According to its Web site, Wisconsin State Statute Ch. 765.01 states that marriage is between a husband and a wife, but nowhere in the state statutes are those labels confined to particular genders.
According to the FRI-WI, similar amendments have reached the ballot box in 20 other states, and all have passed with at least a 58 percent majority.
UW-RF College Republicans see the issue the same way FRI-WI does.
Sophomore Nick Carow, acting as a spokesman for the College Republicans, said public opinion polling shows that over 60 percent of Midwesterners are opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Carow said if the amendment doesn’t pass it could lead to the legalization of polygamy and other non-traditional unions.
“Our position is that heterosexual marriage is sacred,” Carow said.
Carow said the tie between marriage and family should be at the heart of the issue.
Felmlee said Fair Wisconsin is confident that voters will shoot down the marriage amendment because they have one element that the other states didn’t — time.
“A Fair Wisconsin has been working on this for two years,” Felmlee said. “Wisconsin has had the longest time to think about this. Other states only had a few months.”
Student Senate took a stance against the marriage amendment two years ago.
Senate President Joe Eggers said Senate has no plans to change that stance unless a vote is cast to make the issue a priority.
In 1996, Congress adopted a federal DOMA bill that allowed states not to recognize same-sex marriages and unions preformed in another state.
In 2006, both the Senate and the House voted down the opportunity to send a federal marriage protection amendment to the U.S. voting populous.
This issue has been building in Wisconsin, with two sides preparing for the day when this issue will finally be settled.