December 8, 2005

"In the end, it's very difficult to argue against letting the people of Wisconsin decide what they are comfortable with when it comes to marriage."

So says Wisconsin state senator Scott Fitzgerald, defending his resolution that would put the question of gay marriage to a statewide vote. The resolution to amend the constitution passed the senate yesterday, with every Republican voting for it and every Democrat voting against it. It's expected to pass the assembly easily, so Governor Doyle will make the final call as to whether gay marriage will be on the ballot next fall... when Governor Doyle [who vetoed a gay marriage bill in 2003] will himself be on the ballot.

And so, the political game is played.

CORRECTION: Sorry, Doyle has no role this time, as the article makes clear:
Legislators launched the drive to amend the state constitution after Doyle vetoed a bill in 2003 that would have defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Unlike regular bills, the governor does not have a say on constitutional amendments.


KipEsquire said...

It's only "difficult" for people who have never read the Fourteenth Amendment, or who are so consumed by bigotry as to feel a primal urge to constitutionalize it.

Or for opportunist hack politicians.

quietnorth said...

You can see how shallow the Senator's reasoning is by replacing the phrase marriage with other phrases, such as "interracial marriage" "freedom of the press", "lynching".

-Peder said...

Kipesquire, I'm a supporter of gay marriage and I'm not convinced that it's a 14th Amendment case. The idea that there is a clear right for gay marriage is obviously in dispute. Instead of kneejerk accusal of bigotry to anyone who would dare disagree with you let me suggest a different tack. Calmly convince people that gay marriage would be a good thing. Don't accuse your opponents of being driven by hatred. Certainly they think that their agruments have validity. Explain why their fears are unfounded. America (and Wisconsin) is filled with good people. Talk to them and they'll listen.

AJ Lynch said...

The senator is right...the voters have the right to decide this and many other issues. If it's being used as an election tool too, so be it.

In Pennsylvania, they schedule billion dollar referendums for off-year low-voter interest primary elections when fewer than 12-15% of the eligible voters vote. That's the legislature's "election tool" so they can say the voters "approved" the spending. I am sure other states do the same.

ShadyCharacter said...

Ann, don't you mean:

"And so, a democracy functions." ?

Bodie said...

I find the "leave it to the voters" attitude to be a cop out by elected officials - an excuse to abdicate the responsibility of taking a stand on a difficult issue and making sound arguments in support of or opposition to it. It makes me very nervous to have the constitution laid open for amendment to address all things that just might make my neighbors uncomfortable without some sort of gatekeeping by the folks we hire to make laws.

I have already heard supporters assert that this will not affect hetero partner benefits, but the wording of the amendment does not support this contention. It will be interesting in coming days to see what supporters and opponents assert the phrase "A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage" would cover. Would this apply to attempts to simulate marital legal rights (e.g., inheretance rights, medical decision making, etc.) via combinations of contracts or other legal instruments? What about business partnerships? Aren't they arguably substantially similar to marriage?

Eli Blake said...

I agree with the people who have said that it becomes a situation similar to what existed in the Jim Crow days if you leave it to the voters. The voters in those days, if asked to vote on segregation, would certainly have supported it (and they did, in terms of always electing segregationist governors). Even if blacks were allowed to vote in those elections, the likelihood is that segregation still would have won, by a wide margin.

While we are at it, the Nazis, running on an openly anti-Semitic platform, won a majority of seats in the Reichstag in 1932 (the last free election in the Weimar Republic).

Just because something is popular, doesn't make it right. And you can certainly win a majority by appealing to outright bigotry on the part of the majority against a minority (be it Jews, blacks, gays or the new (old) group that demogogue politicians want to villify-- immigrants) but that in itself is an argument against direct referendum.

michael a litscher said...

Democrats, voting against democracy.

Oh, the irony.

Pastor_Jeff said...

To those who think this is a cop-out on the part of legislators, the article makes clear:

The measure must be approved by both houses of the Legislature in two consecutive sessions before being put to voters in a statewide referendum.

You can debate gay marriage and whether the issue merits revising the Constitution, but this is not California-style government by plebiscite. Wisconsin seems to have a sober, reasoned process in place.

Personally, I think the law goes too far in denying the possibility of even civil unions. But comparisons to Nazism are not very helpful or honest here. Eli does win an indirect Godwin, though.

Bodie said...


I agree that this is not like the direct referendum process of CA. Unfortunately, however, the steps of the process described in the article don't guarantee vigorous debate, especially when one party dominates both houses of the legislature. When the majority has little or no pursuading to do the quality of discussion suffers and sound bites for the record seem to be the rule. I think this happened on this issue.
For example, since this amendment was first proposed, I have heard many supporters assert that same sex marriage "undermines the institution of marriage". This sentiment was repeated over an over in the original debates on the amendment. However, I have not heard anyone clearly articulate the mechanism by which they believe state recognition of same-sex civil partnership as a legal entity weakens the marriage as an institution (an institution, I might add, that I have had the benefit of for quite a few years.)

Yes - this is democracy at work and I don't have anything better to propose. I believe in the power our democratic system (which includes the vigorous debate of the blogshere, despite michael a litscher's comment) to eventually find the right balances but that doesn't mean that I don't get queasy with some of the twists and turns on the roller coaster ride along the way.

My comment about abdicating related to the "let the voters decide" statement as a reason stated for supporting the amendment. I would rather hear a legislator state their position on an issue along with the reasoning behind it, even if I disagree with the position and/or the reasoning. I'll listen and perhaps learn something new. I think a 'let the voters decide' statement as a rationale for supporting this or any other amendment is a way of avoiding personal responsiblity (and politcal liability) for the vote cast.

froggyprager said...

I think that this whole effort to get the marriage amendment has nothing to do with gay marriage, but the reason the WI GOP legisaltors are pushing this is to get this on the ballot during a Nov. election when there are races for gov, congress, etc. Motivate more socially conservative people to get out and vote. The pro-gay dems already vote anyway.

Pastor_Jeff said...


Fair enough. I also don't like legislators effectively saying, "I don't have an opinion and I can't do anything because it's what the people want."

I don't know if there's been any substantive debate in Wisconsin, but this is a rather involved process over two legislative sessions, after which the people vote. It seems like there's ample time for discussion. It would be better if this weren't going along strict party lines, but everything's become so politicized, what are the odds of that?

I would rather hear a legislator state their position on an issue along with the reasoning behind it, even if I disagree with the position and/or the reasoning.

Well put, and I agree. But again, what are the odds of politicians doing that? My guess is that some Republicans don't really want to amend the Constitution but feel it's what people want. And some think it's a good idea but can't articulate why. Still others recognize that they'll be vilified as homophobes if they open up a discussion, but they all use popular support as political cover.

AlaskaJack said...

The commonly understood meaning of the institution of marriage is that it is a unique relationship between one man and one woman. This is the definition that is reflected in American law and it is based on a long-held understanding of the essential role that the traditional institution of marriage plays " the civilization of a people." (For all you attorneys out there, take a look at Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190, 208, 210-13(1888).)
In a democracy, if the traditional definition and understanding of marriage is to be changed so as to encompass addiltional relationships, who has the authority to make this change? Are judges to decide or should a question of this magnitude be answered through the democratic process?

Art said...

Regarding Maynard v. Hill. I know opinions don't expire but 1888 is a long time ago..and it's only about 20 years after the 14th amendment was enacted...I'm not sure people were thinking about it in this context at the time.
I'm not a lawyer but the 14th amendment says no denial of equal protection.
Marriage is a contract and one of the prime purposes of a contract is to protect the parties involved.
If this issue ever gets to the US Supreme court (prof Althouse, please advise if it already has somewhere) but I'm going to be interested in reading the gyrations the Justices go through if they try and explain why some people can enter into a particular type of contract and others can't.
On the other hand, if the Supreme
Court (like their brethern to the north) do overturn amendments like Wisconsin you won't want to get in the way of Republican lawmakers stampeding to encode this form of discrimination into an amendment of its own.

in_the_middle said...

if the Supreme Court (like their brethern to the north) do overturn amendments like Wisconsin you won't want to get in the way of Republican lawmakers stampeding to encode this form of discrimination into an amendment of its own.

Hence the FMA. This is no different than what is going on in WI: The GOP is rushing to create something where nothing is needed.

Peder says "Talk to them, and they'll listen" Two words: Jim Crow. Guess we should have waited? Why is the burden of proof on a minority to prove it deserves equal rights?

I don't claim to know what is going on in the WI GOP, but in an election year, something tells me this is nothing more than base-shopping at the expense of a group nobody wants and everyone blames. It's low hanging fruit.

So, pastor Jeff, if it was 'reasoned', then was the CA legislature's approval of gay marriage 'reasoned' as well? What I think we heard ad nauseum from the right is that it wasn't democratically enacted, wa, wa, wah. They breathed a sigh of relief when it was vetoed, and I have to say I agree it wasn't the way I'd want to see gay marriage pass in California. But it's not about 'let the people vote', it's about keeping it off the books, period, under the threat of going to something like the FMA should it ever become enacted.

Let's take a look at Massachussetts, where the anti-marriage groups didn't get what they wanted in an attempt to overturn Goodridge, even though every poll has shown that a majority of Mass. citizens approve of gay marriage or don't want to see it overturned. Is that enough? No. We'll work to bring it to the people, because we know it's not really the 'people' who will vote, it's more about getting the millions of dollars in special interest money to energize the fringes to overturn (hey, is that activism again?) a state's decision using the power of the anti-gay lobby groups from out of state.

Now we have this legislation in Wisconsin, we'll see it thrown to the dogs in the extremes of the right wing, and no doubt it will pass. Will you still call it 'democracy' when, like Texas last month, it is only the extremes voting (I believe 17% of eligible voters voted in Texas??). The truth is just like Massachussetts, where the fringe hate groups, from AFA to Focus on the Family, will throw millions of dollars from out of state to influence the small amount of voters who will go to the polls and energize their groups to pass it.

It's called 'special interest pandering', and it's exactly what the WI GOP wants to shore up their base at the expense of a group who never supports them.

I've come to face the hard cold fact that gay people are the most expendable vote in the United States, both by liberal democrats who can be as hypocrtical as they want and take the gay vote for granted, and the GOP who says "we'll never have that vote anyway, and eeew grosss we don't want it!"

It's painful to see even the most versed Constitutionalists turn a blind eye to the 14th Amendment, the instructiveness of segregation and inter-racial marriage, and suddenly (when it comes to their own morals) not believe that court decisions are subject to review. Well, er, unless, again, it's a law they don't like.

Please don't call it 'reasoned democracy' (or even 'democracy' a la poster shady, as civics 101 indicates this is a Republic and these "representatives" are the ones speaking here--Letshcer here seems to want everything left up to majority rule), and please don't tell me _peder, that I have to sell you on receiving the same rights that you already have even though I share the same burdens as you as a tax-paying American.

We can argue about what's right or wrong about it or the best way about ensuring equal protection or if it should be Civil Unions, etc. The best answer is the US should not be in the marriage business, period.

But please don't start hiding behind this "time immemorial" canard from the 1800's or the 'it's always been between a man and a woman', as a cursory look at history shows how factually wrong that is. It's not about protecting marriage. It's about bigotry.

WI politicians should be ashamed. But I'm not surprised.

I saw an interesting quote from someone the other day wondering how we have been the beacon of freedom for centuries yet today for some Americans, they would have to seek other countries (Britian, Spain, Canda, etc etc etc) to be treated equally.

Come to think of it, shame on not the politicians. Shame on us.