June 20, 2006

Defeating the marriage amendment in Wisconsin.

I've said before that I think it's a bad idea to amend the Wisconsin constitution to add this murky language:
"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."
Fair Wisconsin is working to defeat the amendment. You might consider helping them out.

UPDATE: And what's with this UW law student saying "Even Althouse things [sic] the amendment is full of 'murky language' and that 'it’s a bad idea'"? I questioned that locution but got no answer. I suspect the student's reasoning is: Althouse is a big conservative, so she must be against gay marriage, so if she thinks the amendment is bad, it means a lot. Quite aside from the fact that plenty of conservatives favor gay marriage and that I'm not any kind of a social conservative, I've been blogging in favor of gay marriage since January 2004, my first month of blogging. You need to think more clearly if you're going to write about people by name. And check your comments to see whether people are raising questions you need to respond to.


Dave said...

Well, I'm all for gay marriage....but how is the language you quote "murky"?

Its intent seems quite clear.

Perhaps I'm missing something.

Unknown said...

Good luck, Ann. Last year in Ohio a lot of else felt the same way you do, but it isn't off the wall to think the similar amendment on the ballot here then is what attracted enough right-wing voters to the polls to re-elect Bush. And, sure enough, the new consititutional amendment has raised complicated issues, like whether domestic abuse laws can apply to unmarried couples.

Ann Althouse said...

Dave: I can't tell what all is covered by that language. What are the details of what is outlawed? What does it mean to say that something "substantially similiar" "shall not be valide or recognized"? Why don't you tell me since you say it's clear?

Anonymous said...

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.

It's terribly murky. It doesn't name the one man and one woman whose marriage will be recognized.

Ann Althouse said...


Joe said...

I agree with the first sentence.
I think the second sentence violates equal protection as applied to the states. How can WI deny the right to contract between 2 individuals?
WV: mytlcnap

Steven said...

Me, I like the "for unmarried individuals" bit.

After all, they could have said "but not constituting a lawful marriage", restricting the status on the character of the institution; it can't be marriage-like unless it's a marriage. Instead, they restricted marriage-like domestic partnerships on the marital status of the individuals involved.

Accordingly, a domestic partnership for a married man with another married man is legal -- both individuals are married individuals, so a domestic partnership law for them is not a demestic partnership law for "unmarried individuals".

tiggeril said...

Geez. There go you being an Evil Republican again, Ann.


Unknown said...

I think I favor this amendment.

It's a terrible waste for all of those cute farm boys to be living in Wisconsin. We should give them whatever incentives we can to encourage them to move to gay friendly places.

Like New York for example.

John A said...

"A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."

Uh, no common-law marriages?

Joseph said...

Thank you. It means a lot to me to see people who are not personally necessarily very invested in gay rights issues take a stand on issues like this. We went to a wedding recently for a straight couple who asked guests to give donations to a similar organization in lieu of gifts. The odds seem to be in favor of passing the amendment in Wisconsin, which is all the more reason to strongly support its opposition.

somefeller said...

The second sentence is an attempt to prevent civil unions from being recognized, and arguably forbids heterosexual common-law marriage or other arrangements "substantially similar" to marriage. Texas passed a similar amendment last year.

If I remember correctly, in at least one incident where such an amendment passed (in Nebraska, I believe), a court held that a woman who was beaten by her live-in boyfriend couldn't get the benefit of the bump-up in penalty for domestic violence because the court held that doing so would essentially create a status substantially similar to marriage (domesticity = marriage, I guess) for unmarried live-in couples.

I hope Wisconsin doesn't vote the way Texas did. I must point out, however, that amendments like this often show that conservatives who say "I'm against gay marriage, but have no problem with civil unions" don't put their money where there mouth is, when it comes to actual behavior in the voting booth. If they did, they'd vote against this sort of thing, and conservative activists would stop at the first sentence if all that was at issue was something called "marriage".

Marghlar said...

DTL: gay boys from Wisconsin go to Chicago, not New York. Everyone knows that -- most of them live within a mile or two of me.

But the general point stands. Given the current situation, gay people need to cluster in major urban centers in blue states, where the climate isn't as nasty. And where things are much more fun, too.

Simon said...

For those interested I've been doing some number crunching on the Federal amendment.

Abraham said...

How can WI deny the right to contract between 2 individuals?

Lochner lives!

nowgirl said...

That's two Althouse-blogged favorites in one day (Lionel Shriver and Fair Wisconsin.)

Note to Wyatt Gwyon - sooner or later, a state is going to beat one of these, and Wisconsin's got the best shot any state's had so far. There are many reasons for this, but I'll leave it at: when's the last time you saw Russ Feingold, Ann, and Charlie Sykes line up on an issue?

John in Nashville said...

Ann, do the Cheerleader-in-chief and Karl Rove know that you have broken lockstep with them? Or are you merely being facetious?

Ann Althouse said...

John in Nashville: You obviously don't know much about where this blog has been. The archives are there. Why not use them before making an assertion about me, unless you want to advertise that you don't care about the truth?

MadisonMan said...

Thanks for the link Ann. There are two same-sex couples on my street, one with a kid, and I work with another. I'd like to do all I can to support them.

Lawyapalooza said...

This amendment is political pandering at its worst. I can reluctantly accept politicians engaging in useless referendums on controversial issues, or even legislation on controversial issues. But when the politicians line up so desecrate a constitution by adding admittedly propagandized hate for a political purpose, they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Wisconsin is going to be the first state to turn this back. I would say watch and wait, but we need more than watching. If you can find it in your hearts and wallets to give even a little, you will make a difference.

People of all political, personal, and religious persuasions ought to fight this amendment, even if they do not support gay marriage. The second sentence will take a swipe at elderly heterosexual couples who for religious, financial, or legal reasons live together but do not want to marry. We have already seen attempts in MI and OH to use the second sentence to stop domestic violence protection in heterosexual and gay couples. We have also witnessed the very people who claimed the second sentence did not affect health insurance benefits file suit to eliminate such protections the day after the amendment passed in MI.

I think last time I posted on this issue, I said churches representing 400,000 members in WI have come out against the amendment. That number is now closer to 500,000.

Wisconsin is going to surprise everyone. After you donate, watch and see. Voters are much smarter than politicians assume. With the benefit of hindsight and a tremendous amount of education, Wisconsin is going to vote No.

Bissage said...

My point is a narrow one concerning rhetoric: It usually strikes me as weird every time I hear somebody refer to an amendment to a constitution as "desecration."

A constitutional provision is what it is. To say that the proposed amendment would "desecrate" the state constitution is to imply that the constitution is God's own truth and that IT SHALL NOT CHANGE!!! That can't be right.

Doesn't the New York constitution regulate the width of ski trails?

Lawyapalooza said...

Main Entry: desecration
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: violation
Synonyms: abuse, blasphemy, debasement, defilement, impiety, irreverence, profanation, sacrilege
Antonyms: consecration, honor, praise, sanctification

I submit that adding the first constitutional amendment that restricts rights of a people is a debasement, defilement, and abuse of the forming documents of a state or a nation. The opposite of course is to honor a constitution for what it is, which is something higher than and more permanent than legislation that responds to the times.

Both the US and WI constitution begin with a statement asserting that all people are equal. An amendment that defiles that basic statement of belief (which allegedly sets us apart from nations with instututionalized discrimination---Islamic states for example) is desecration.

A constitutional amendment about the width of trails is foolish and cheapens a constitution, but until the constitution begins," All trails are created equal..." not desecration.

Communitygal said...

You are so smart, Lawyapalooza. What this proposal would do is put a foonote to several provisions in the Wisconsin Constitution which says "except for gays, lesbians, and hetrosexuals not in state-sanctioned marriages." Those provisions are the provisions guaranteeing equality under the law, and guaranteeing the right to petition the government for redress, and perhaps others. If that is not desecration of the founding principles of our governments, I do not know what is.

As for those of you who want the cute Wisconsinites to move to your neck of the woods . . . Wisconsin is a wonderful place to live and work. Perhaps you should come visit, interview, and stay. We'd love to have some of those excess blue votes that are conglomerating on the east and west coasts. We don't call the Great Lakes area the third coast for nothing.

Randy said...

Ok. I gave. And it hurt. Although I am a gay man, gay marriage does not interest me, as I consider the term marriage refers to a religious ceremony performed for a man and a woman (and history appears to confirm that). Unlike Andrew Sullivan, I am not overly concerned what the neighbors might think, or reforming one particular church stuck somewhere in the 15th or 16th century, or obtaining a piece of paper marking official validation for my life from the state.

That said, I think civil unions are a fine idea for those who wish them and this proposition is designed to preclude that possibility as well, not just what constitutes a "marriage." The campaign for recognition of civil unions was on the verge of victory in some states when the Massachusetts Supreme Court stepped in. Since then, even supposed gay-friendly states like California have stepped back from recognition.

As others have pointed out here and elsewhere, the proponents of this measure have an agenda far greater than "defending marriage" or their proposed amendment would be much simpler. Unlike some here, I have no illusions that this will be defeated - voters have historically expressed little support for the civil rights of "others" (whoever those "others" may have been as long as it wasn't them), and it is so easy to demagogue this issue. Stories like this one in The Advocate are not, shall we say, "helpful" to the "No" cause.

Randy Rogers

michael farris said...

"I consider the term marriage refers to a religious ceremony"

Strange, you _really_ don't think people who go through a non-religious civil ceremony are married?

Bissage said...

Lawyapalooza: Thanks for responding. I think I understand a little better now.

Lawyapalooza said...

Thanks. I do appreciate the challenge to my use of the word desecrate, though. It made me think more about why that particular word jumped onto my keyboard in this particular instance. It's a word that is probably used far too often, but seemed to fit.

Anonymous said...

"higher than and more permanent than legislation that responds to the times."

This is a blatant misrepresentation. The amendment is a response to those who would change one of the most foundational traditions of American (and Western) law and society. It is nonsense to have changes proposed, and then think opposition to those change is purely current politics.

Besides, marriage is more foundational to society than any constitution. To pervert that, and then shout about respecting the constitutions of the nation or various states only shows your priorities are skewed.

Nor is there "a people" being discriminated against by this law. You cannot have "a people" if you can't have children. It's just people, Wisconsinites, Americans. In general, "a people" is also recognizable: they have physical charactersitics, cultures, languages, legal and moral traditions passed down through the generations.

Finally it is not the concern of government how two people feel about each other but how they treat each other, and what effect that has on society.

Marghlar said...

News flash for Vuljean:

Gay people can procreate. Gay women can use donated sperm, or gay men can find a surrogate mom.

And just because people might choose not to procreate, is not reason to discriminate against them. I have an idea: let's ban all infertile people from getting married. Can you explain to me why we ought not to do this?

Lawyapalooza said...


Yikes! There was a small red-headed stranger in my house this morning who called me Mom. Her other mom was getting ready to take her to the orthodontist. Thank goodness I saw your post before I paid the orthodontia bill! We are clearly not a family deserving of the same rights as Britney Spears and "K-Fed."

I'm sorry, what were you saying about perverting marriage? Oh yes, blaming the gays. Tell that to Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and the innumerable Wisconsin Republican leaders who have been divorced multiple times. "It's not your fault, Mr.-Leave-your-Wife-At-Her-Cancer-Bed." It's those gays that caused you to be a complete %$^$ to your family.

You said: "Finally it is not the concern of government how two people feel about each other but how they treat each other, and what effect that has on society."

I assume this means by the bottom of your post you had decided that it is not for the government to interfere in private personal relationships, right?

Anonymous said...

"Yikes! There was a small red-headed stranger" Scared me. I thought you knew me for a second. But now I see it was just emotional blackmail.

"Tell that to Newt Gingrich, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and" Touche. But this is just the slippery slope argument in reverse. I did not use that. Nor did I blame "gays" for all sorts of problems, or any. As for "pervert." I also have a dictionary: 2. to give a wrong meaning to; misconstrue. I meant the law.

Finally, law: "it is not for the government to interfere in private personal relationships, right?" No! I said it is the government's concern how people treat each other, but this does not mean what they feel or think about each other. This difference is the foundation of civility.

But what was your point here? Government sanction of marriage IS interference in personal relationships. You can't demand special benefits for any marriage from government, and at the same time tell government to butt out.


you perverted my post. The mention of procreation was meant to be in the context of the single relatiionship. There they cannot. There is no discrimination; if a gay man can knock a woman up, he can marry her. Not "loving" her is no excuse. It's not even a choice.

Communitygal said...


You said "Nor is there "a people" being discriminated against by this law. You cannot have "a people" if you can't have children."

What about all of the heterosexual couples who can't have children? Are you saying my brother and his wife (who married in a Catholic Church) are not "people" because she can't get pregnant? What about my mother and her husband, who married (in a civil ceremony) after my mother went into menapause?

Also, you seem to be obsessed with the impact of this amendment on gays. While gays are certainly the whippingboys of this particular effort, other unmarried couples will also be hurt: elderly people who, were they to remarry, would lose pension benefits and social security benefits based on their deceased spouse's record are the most obvious couples who have very real reasons to not marry but also have legal recognition of their relationships.

Make no mistake about it, the people advancing this effort desire a world where every woman is pregnant, married to a man, and not working. Maybe they also would like women to formally become the property of their husbands, to conform to a much earlier definition of marriage.

Nevermore said...

"How can WI deny the right to contract between 2 individuals?" -Joe

They can make any contract they want, but the state has never been forced to recognize the terms. If that was the case, I could enter into contract with you declaring that we are exempt from state taxes. The state is not obligated to honor that contract.

I agree with Dave also -- the language doesn't seem murky to me, it seems pretty clear.

Marghlar said...

I perverted nothing, vuljean.

You said: Nor is there "a people" being discriminated against by this law. You cannot have "a people" if you can't have children.

I pointed out your factual error. Gay people can and do have children. Now, I'd agree that homosexuality isn't perfectly correlated with one's parents, but that's a different point. One can be discriminated against on the basis of traits that spring up from generation to generation, or those that occur even while you are alive. Disability, for instance. Or homosexuality.

As for this: There is no discrimination; if a gay man can knock a woman up, he can marry her. Not "loving" her is no excuse. It's not even a choice.

So, then, it wouldn't be discrimination if I outlawed hetero marriages, but permitted gay ones? Because you could just marry a person of your own gender, right? Give me a break. There is a natural instinct to form pair bonds with people we are attracted to. To give it to some, but not to others, on the basis of a characteristic that is beyond their control, is discrimination. And in this case, it is unjustifiable.

I'd note that your logic would also suggest that there is no discrimination in outlawing interracial marriages, because everyone has the same right -- the right to marry someone of their own race. We call that racial discrimination nonetheless, and rightly so.

Anonymous said...

I did distinguish between "a people" and "people."