The state Assembly voted 62-31 Tuesday to let voters decide whether to write a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions into the state constitution. But before the last lawmaker's vote was taken, supporters and opponents of the proposal were already looking past that action toward a costly campaign to win voters' support in November's popular referendum.Things will be exciting here over the next few months, it seems. Gay rights groups should place special importance on defeating the anti-gay marriage amendment here in Wisconsin, because they think they can win here and maybe turn the tide on this issue nationally. The anti-gay marriage forces will need to respond strongly, and that may not play well among the general populace of this state. The amendment is broadly worded:
Opponents of the Republican-sponsored ban said they want Wisconsin to be the first state in the country to reject a proposed amendment, while supporters see the state as another chance to prove that upholding traditional marriage isn't just a Bible Belt issue.
With two years of preparation behind them, both sides promised a campaign that could run as high as several million dollars, include hundreds or even thousands of volunteers, and employ everything from the pulpit to Web sites and television ads.
"Wisconsin is significant because it's not a southern conservative state. It's not a state, I don't think, where the so-called religious right is considered to normally be a strong factor," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the pro-amendment Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "It's important because it's illustrative of the fact that defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman has very broad appeal throughout the American population."
Tim O'Brien of the Human Rights Campaign, also in Washington, D.C., also saw Wisconsin as important to his gay rights group's efforts to oppose the constitutional bans that have swept many states.
"When you look at the national landscape right now, Wisconsin is a place in which we believe that we have a great chance of succeeding," said O'Brien, a former state resident who's working with state groups to defeat the ban. "I think that Wisconsin is just leaps and bounds ahead of any other state that has had this occur."
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.The second sentence goes beyond what is needed to satisfy traditionalists and takes a gratuitous swipe at benefits currently enjoyed by real families here in the state. I find it hard to believe that the decent, often religious citizens who think gay marriage is wrong will feel very good about the threat of depriving real individuals of insurance benefits. [ADDED: I'm referring to health insurance!] We will see these individuals in the TV ads, and the other side will be reduced to arguing that the language of the amendment doesn't really mean that. Trust us, they will say. Trust the courts to interpret the language of the amendment so that it won't mean the bad thing the gay rights groups are saying it will mean. You hypocrites! The argument for the amendment was that we can't trust the courts not to find rights for gay people in the unamended state constitution.