What is “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage”?
The sponsors of the amendment have been evasive about what legal protections and rights they expect the amendment to take away.
The second sentence almost certainly bans unmarried partners (same-sex or opposite-sex) from entering into civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships, such as those enacted by the legislatures of Connecticut, Vermont and California. Such unions define the partners’ enforceable rights and obligations with respect to one another and give some legal recognition to their relationships, but do not constitute marriages. President Bush has endorsed such civil unions in the past. See Elisabeth Bumiller, “Bush Says His Party is Wrong to Oppose Gay Civil Unions,” New York Times (Oct. 26, 2004).
Beyond civil unions, the second sentence puts at risk a wide variety of legal rights, employment benefits, and contractual commitments that unmarried domestic partners take for granted. See questions and answers below. At a minimum, as Wisconsin State Senator Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged during the public hearing on the amendment on November 29, 2005, the courts will inevitably become involved in deciding whether a particular protection – or combination of protections – will be considered “substantially similar” to marriage. Thus, rather than taking this contentious social issue out of the courts, the amendment actually invites litigation.
If you support the amendment, please try to deal with this problem in the comments. The main justification for a constitutional amendment is that the courts forced it, but the Wisconsin courts have not found a gay marriage right. The amendment is trying to get out in front of the courts -- and I can understand this -- but it's written in a way that will have to involve the courts. I think our state courts have left matters to the political process. Why not trust them to continue to do that, especially since the alternative will provoke litigation?
And, conservatives, note the favorable reference to President Bush -- including the fact that they called him "President Bush."