November 19, 2006

"Wisconsin will accept gay marriage sooner than you might think."

Wisconsin State Journal's editorial page editor Scott Milfred says. We amended the state constitution and we can amend it again. It's easy! We do it about every 13 months around here. We've already got 41 percent of the voters against the amendment. Don't you think it's more likely than not that over time the percentage will increase? How hard do you think it will be to pick up 9 more points and get to the simple majority needed to amend the constitution? It seems almost inevitable as young people replace old people in the electorate.

You know, the arguments against amending the constitution tapped into the idea that a constitution is a vessel for lofty values that we want to make permanent and invulnerable to transitory majorities. But that isn't the case if the constitution is easy to amend and entirely vulnerable to the will of any new majority. So some of the rhetoric that was deployed against the amendment is undermined by Milfred's point, but at least you don't have to feel so morose about the recent vote. It doesn't mean that much. But don't just cheer up. Milford wants to reinvigorate the amendment's opponents: Keep fighting. You can re-amend the constitution. It's a Wisconsin tradition.

38 comments:

LarryK said...

Couldn't the Constitution be amended to say that any and all previous amendments cannot be reversed by further amendments for a fixed period of time (e.g. 10 years)? It could be called the amendment with teeth amendment.

Derve said...
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Internet Ronin said...

I believe that the number of times that the Wisconsin constitution has been amended is not that unusual. California's constitution has been amended more than 500 times by legislative referendum and about 50 times by voter initiative.

Ann Althouse said...

Larry: The constitution could be amended to change the way it is amended.

Derve: Learn to read.

Tim said...

Direct democracy, as for allowing the constitution to be amended by referendum, is worth having to allow the electorate to enact changes elites or well-organized and entrenched special interests prevent. However, it does seem worth considering, given the need for constitutions to be anchored (what purpose does a constitution that changes as frequently as a flag blowing in the wind serve?), to require a super-majority. Two-thirds seems to be the general standard, but three-fifths might be sufficient.

Internet Ronin said...

Referendums are placed on the ballot by legislatures, asking the people to approve or reject proposed changes.

Initiatives are placed on the ballot by petition.

Tim said...

"Derve: Learn to read."

We can amend constitutions, we can put a man on the moon, we can even extract a single cell from a blastocyst and replicate them; but some things are just not possible.

Derve said...
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Tim said...

Well, if we're going to get technical about it, from Merriam-Webster Online:

Main Entry: ref·er·en·dum
Pronunciation: "re-f&-'ren-d&m
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural ref·er·en·da /-d& /; or -dums
Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, neuter of referendus, gerundive of referre to refer
1 a : the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative b : a vote on a measure so submitted
2 : a diplomatic agent's note asking for government instructions

Pogo said...

Any constitution so easily altered is an enemy of liberty. It serves merely as a blackboard, or the fashion page in the newspaper.

Why would gay marriage supporters take solace in a "right" that can be undone the next election cycle, by simply gaining half the voters plus one?

I'm with Tim; requiring a "super-majority" to amend state constitutions seems a bare minimum.

Internet Ronin said...

Sorry about that, Tim. It was just a thought. I've been jumped on elsewhere for using the wrong terminology. It really matters to some people.

Derve said...
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Internet Ronin said...

Pogo: Unlike the federal constitution, state constitutions are notorious for their excessive attention to details that don't stand the test of time, thus the repeated changes. My guess is that the vast majority of Wisconsin's changes are like other states: relatively insignificant "housekeeping" alterations and corrections, not major policy measures. (Just a thought to keep in mind - too bad the editorial writer didn't provide better background.)

Internet Ronin said...

derve: Please look in the mirror.

Love that Republican fighting tactic of belitting your opponents though.

It seems to me that you've been doing quite a bit of that lately, and I'm on your side most of the time. Try leaving the vindictive personalization out of your comments - you might discover you are a far more effective advocate for a cause when you do. (Just a suggestion, of course. YMMV.)

Derve said...
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Internet Ronin said...

Well, derve, you are certainly entitled to your incredibly unique interpretation of someone else's remarks. And your own personal interpretation of the poll results, for that matter.

Your allegations to the contrary, I've seen no pattern of abitrary deletion of opposing viewpoints. Many people around here regularly disagree with our hostess without being personally offensive and suffer no consequences. I definitely have on more than one occasion.

It seems to me that, if someone wants respect accorded to their viewpoint, derve, they have to accord at least minimal respect to others. Some people just don't get it and never will, I guess. But, enough of this undoubtedly fruitless discussion. Apologies to all for bringing it up.

Derve said...
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Ann Althouse said...

The problem with Derve is that she posts way too much, is disrespectful, distorts what other people say, is completely nasty about it, and won't go away when I tell her to. She is Mary, who I put effort into trying to kick out before. Unlike our old troll Quxxo, she will not leave when asked, which is the ultimate affront a guest can make. She is plainly a troll, plus she is a former student of mine who for some stupid reason thinks it's acceptable to hang out, unwanted, on her former professor's blog. I'm going to delete a lot of her comments, not because she disagrees with me -- her theory -- but because of the reasons stated here. Get a clue, Mary. I am telling you to leave.

Stephen said...

This is an issue I'm torn on how to proceed for pragmatic reasons (Virginia just passed an amendment as well). Ideally, I feel that these state amendments should never have existed, because state's constitutions should model themselves on the federal constitution, which would require more like a 2/3rds majority to pass an amendment. But I'd certainly hate for that change to go through, and then require a 2/3rds majority to reverse an anti-gay-marriage amendment that made it in with a less-than-2/3rds vote...

The Drill SGT said...

Tim and Ronin said things about...
Referendums are placed on the ballot by legislatures, asking the people to approve or reject proposed changes.

Initiatives are placed on the ballot by petition.


Tim is right about the dictionary theory,
Ronin and I grew up with California civic lessons. California, like WI and several other western states have a progressive (old definition e.g. good government one, not the "social justice" one) tradition in their constitutions. I was struck by a number of things when I went just now to back Ronin up.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/const-toc.html

1. The table of contents:
ARTICLE I DECLARATION OF RIGHTS
ARTICLE II VOTING, INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM, AND RECALL
ARTICLE III STATE OF CALIFORNIA
ARTICLE IV LEGISLATIVE
ARTICLE V EXECUTIVE
ARTICLE VI JUDICIAL
ARTICLE VII PUBLIC OFFICERS
ARTICLE IX EDUCATION
ARTICLE X WATER ...... rest of it


WoW: California put its Bill of Rights first, then the referendum, initiative recall stuff next, then as an after thought defines what the state is, and the powers of those second tier folks like the Governor, judges and the legislature. shows you what the founders thought mattered. The People. That is the western progressive tradition which is not much different today than being called a Western Conservative BTW.

2. Initiative in section 2.8
(a) The initiative is the power of the electors to propose
statutes and amendments to the Constitution and to adopt or reject
them.
(b) An initiative measure may be proposed by presenting to the
Secretary of State a petition that sets forth the text of the
proposed statute or amendment to the Constitution and is certified to
have been signed by electors equal in number to 5 percent in the
case of a statute, and 8 percent in the case of an amendment to the
Constitution, of the votes for all candidates for Governor at the
last gubernatorial election....

3. referendum in section 2.9
(a) The referendum is the power of the electors to approve
or reject statutes or parts of statutes except urgency statutes,
statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or
appropriations for usual current expenses of the State.
(b) A referendum measure may be proposed by presenting to the
Secretary of State, within 90 days after the enactment date of the
statute, a petition certified to have been signed by electors equal
in number to 5 percent of the votes for all candidates for Governor
at the last gubernatorial election, asking that the statute or part
of it be submitted to the electors....


short summary.

Initiatives are created by the people, put on the ballot by petition and become law and a vote

Referendums are laws passed by the Legislative elites that some people want a chance to vote on, they petition for voter approval/rejection


Your mileage may vary in other states

Internet Ronin said...

Thanks, Drill Sgt! I definitely should have remembered that voting on prior legislative action was a "referendum" not an "initiative." As you say, mileage undoubtedly varies in other states ;-)

Derve said...
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Ed said...

Perhaps the States and the federal government ought to follow the first amendment and abide by the principle of separation of church and state, and get out of the marriage business altogether.

Steve said...

It seems almost inevitable as young people replace old people in the electorate.

As 'young people replace old people' they themselves become old people. The current 'old people' were the baby boomer/flower children that were supposedly so open minded and free spirited. But as they grew older and had families they became more conservative social. There is no reason to think that the same thing will not happen with today's young people as they age.

Balfegor said...

As far as initiatives go, they may represent a Western progressive tradition of sorts. But it should also be noted that courts have, in many cases, severely constrained the scope of the people's initiative power, through things like the "single subject rule." It's been used recently, as I recall, to prevent the people from implementing laws against Kelo-type takings. Indeed, when you have lawyers at work, there's practically no initiative you can't argue contains multiple "subjects."

JorgXMcKie said...

I used to have copies of all 50 state constitutions for a course I taught in State and Local Government. The variety is somewhere between interesting and wildly amazing.

Most of them are not that hard to amend, probably because, as mentioned above, they tend to be overly specific. As I remember, before the LA constitution was re-written some years ago it had been amended more than 700 times. The original document even stated the pay for legislators.

I believe that Massachusetts is still operating under its original constitution, which it had before it entered the Union.

At one time, Tennessee had the right to play bingo in its Bill of Rights.

Also, it in pretty routine for the State Bill of Rights to be first in the document and to be quite extensive.

Anonymous said...

It seems our friend Ms. Derve has symptoms of the leftist disease- the 'right' to have what they want without the 'responsibility' to earn that right.

The Gay Marriage amendment has similar roots. Marriage is enshrined in law for several reasons, based only on my evaluation of social order.

First is to create a stable man/woman couple to create and nurture the next generation.

Second is to create a single entity for the amassing of assets for the procreation and rearing of the next generation.

Third is to keep heraldical lines clear- especially in the early small communities where genetically it paid to know who were brother and sister.

None of these conditions would apply to a same sex couple.

Certain conditions have been written into law to protect the rights of a married couple. All of these conditions (except the tax benefits offered by the IRS) can be replicated with a collection of legal documents. So why is the idea of same sex marriage so important?

I believe it is for public acceptance of the life style. It isn’t so much for the ‘right’ to marry as it is for the ‘requirement’ that YOU accept how THEY are.

So why do I think it is so important that marriage be kept between a man and a woman (he asked and answered again in particularly Rumsfeldian way)? Because certain lines have certain hard positions and once a line is moved there are no hard points against moving it again.

This seems to be the case between the Conservative and Liberal in all controversial cases in this day and age; the Conservative is trying to hold the traditional line position and the Liberal is out to move the line for their advantage today & to Hell with the future.

If same sex can be approved for marriage why not a man and a dead deer? (Imagine turning THAT bill into your health insurer). Can we deny the right of marriage to those who love differently than we? We didn’t to the same sexers; how can we to the interspecies crowd? We’ve moved the line once (and amended the constitution), why not twice, or even three times, if some guy one feels the need to marry another guy and his donkey.

If marriage to between a man and a woman carries the same weight as marriage between two women then we would have no right to deny marriage to any combination of two or three or a dozen.

See what I mean? Some folks become so wrapped up in their ‘right’ to something they forget about their ‘responsibility’ to society and the future, and become ready to throw away 10,000 years of success for a moments’ failure. We got where we are by the current concept of marriage. I imagine that there may have been a society in the past that didn’t honor that same concept of marriage.

I wonder what ever happened to them?

Palladian said...

"If same sex can be approved for marriage why not a man and a dead deer?"

ah, the lovely Santorum argument, that a relationship between two human beings is analogous to people marrying dead animals.

AJ Lynch said...

Re dead deer:
BTW, I applaud that guy's attorney for such a creative defense tactic. That was a lawyer at his best- a truly agile mind.

And correction Palladian, I don't think even Santorum imagined the dead part.

Internet Ronin said...

Maybe it is a generational thing, but most of the gay men and lesbians that I know really don't give a rat's a** about using the specific term "marriage" in legislation, would be quite happy with a "civil union" and let the pedants worry about the details of what it all really means. We've discussed this in person and via e-mail. Most of us agree that, in the long run, whatever the slip of paper calls it is irrelevant. The question for us (my admittedly small group of friends) then becomes, is the problem really over defining marriage as between a man and a woman or is it not according gay/lesbian couples any legal rights at all. While we tend to believe the former, we are not 100% positive. (Although the comments here on Althouse by people with various political beliefs give me some cause for optimism in that regard.)

Internet Ronin said...

FWIW, whoever said the government should get out of the marriage business - that's what my own brother believes. Only one problem with that: it would require a massive overhaul of federal and state tax codes as well as social security, to name just two giant stumbling blocks.

Seven Machos said...

The problem here is that it, from an on-the-ground political perspective, it will be more difficult to change the law now that it has been constitutionalized. A much better approach would have been to appeal to legislatures to make laws that mitigated some of the perceived unfairness facing gay couples. Slowly, over time, with enough small changes in law, gay marriage would be the functional, legal equivalent of straight marriage (as a gay marriage basically is now, as any two people living together in a long-term arrangement and having sex basically is now).

What the in-your-face strategy has done is to give political space to people who don't want any gay marriage (see this amendment). Now, it seems to me that is impossible to appeal to the legislature for small changes and measured, managed change.

It's disappointing. But it's what happens when you employ bad political strategy, and it's an abject lesson in why you should employ good political strategy.

Internet Ronin said...

But it's what happens when you employ bad political strategy

Yes. And no. I believe that the political strategy prior to the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision was to pursue civil unions on a state-by-state basis. Once the activist do-gooders in Massachusetts ruled the way they did, that changed. For the worse, I agree.

As you say, once something is enshrined in a state constitution, it is much harder to achieve change, as anything and everything requires a vote of the people.

Tim said...

"Tim is right about the dictionary theory, Ronin and I grew up with California civic lessons."

I too am more familiar with California civic lessons than I care to be; I sought a broader terminology that might apply to such practices in states not California.

Otherwise, we're cool.

sonicfrog said...

The solution, if you're hell bent on keeping this amendment from being repealed, is easy. Of coarse all you would have to do is amend the constitution to make it harder to amend the constitution:-)

sonicfrog said...

redneck said:

If same sex can be approved for marriage why not a man and a dead deer? (Imagine turning THAT bill into your health insurer).

I'm sure insurers of every kind have seen much worse!!!

Remember, it wasn't paganism that destroyed the Roman Empire, it was Christianity.

Balfegor said...

Remember, it wasn't paganism that destroyed the Roman Empire, it was Christianity.

Well, or:

(1) Lead piping.
(2) Massive and uncontrolled immigration of a hostile and unassimilated ethnic minority. With weapons.
(3) Insufficient credit mechanisms to allow the imperial government to fund essential defense campaigns without impoverishing secure provinces.
(4) Sheer bad luck, losing the gigantic armada assembled for the reconquest of Carthage and the North African provinces to a freak storm.
(5) Introduction of a new, absolutist dynasty in Persia, enabling the Persians to divert larger armies agains the Roman Empire.
(6) The Chinese Empire defeats the Hsiung-Nu; they make their way West, become Huns, sack Rome.
(7) Widespread sexual immorality, moral relativism.
(8) German savages develop agriculture, metallurgy, want revenge.
(9) Romans too fat, lazy to fight for themselves, hire Germans to do it for them => oops.
(10) Honorius is a fool, jokes about it not mattering whether Rome loses a distant province or two; shortly thereafter, the Gallic provinces are lost, empire dissolves, Goths take over.
(11) Islam strikes at the heart of the Eastern provinces, rolls back the remnants of Justinian's reconquest of the Empire, steals Egypt.
(12) Italians betray Christendom, forge giant cannon for the Turks to break down the Land Walls of Constantinople; Fatih Mehmet enters the City in triumph.
(13) The Emperor dissolves the Empire, under the threat of the Antichrist Bonaparte.
(14) Terrorist assassinates Archduke; everyone dies.

Really, there's all kinds of reasons. Can't just stick with one.

Ed said...

Not that anyone is still reading this thread after the prolific pace Ann has kept up these last few days, but...

"government [getting] out of the marriage business ... would require a massive overhaul of federal and state tax codes as well as social security"

Good. The fair, equitable way to do this is to (1) eliminate the vast majority of taxes (in particular withholding); replace with a combination of sales taxes (a la fairtax.org) and/or lotteries (ie a tax on the mathematically-illiterate) (2) eliminate social security: allow people to receive their entire paychecks to invest as they wish.

I can already hear the chorus of "heartless!", but really it is the opposite (just look at what Milton Friedman (about 7 minutes in) had to say about social security).

In fact, I'd even go further and also eliminate Welfare under the principle of separation of church and state (with a nod to Davy Crockett).