Wisconsin holds heated debate over proposed DOMA

BY admin

August 23 2003 12:00 AM ET

A debate over whether the state of Wisconsin should pass a law specifically prohibiting gay marriage heated up Thursday in a flurry of Bible verse readings and charges of antigay bigotry, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. During a joint public hearing before the assembly and senate judiciary committees in a packed and tense state capitol hearing room, supporters and opponents of same-sex unions joined a growing national debate over the institution of marriage. Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) and Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) proposed the bill prohibiting gay marriage, which they said would protect the state's definition of marriage from court rulings favoring same-sex marriage. Wisconsin law already defines legal marriage as a union between a husband and wife. Identical bills in the senate and assembly would amend state statutes to define marriage as only between a man and woman.

"This is a time when society needs to reinforce the institution of marriage, not reinvent it," Gundrum said. "There are activist courts out there that are very, very creative." But Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee), one of two openly gay state lawmakers, said the measure is "about bigotry, about hatred." Carpenter said no court in the state's 155-year history has construed a husband to be anything but a man and a wife to be anything but a woman.

Robert Loggans, minister at Calvary Baptist Church in Watertown, told lawmakers that failing to embrace the one-man, one-woman definition could open the door not only to same-sex marriage but to marriages involving "adult with minor, human with animal, parent with child, sibling with sibling," the Journal-Sentinel reported. He also said that long-term marriages between one man and one woman provide safer homes, fewer abortions, a healthier society, and the best environment for children. But Carpenter responded by pointing out how such comments open the door to violence against gays and lesbians. "Some young kid is going to hear what you say and think it's OK to beat up some 'fag.' The God I believe in probably wouldn't have said what you said."

The measure could come up for a committee vote as early as next week. Those opposing the measure used nonverbal signals to show their approval or disapproval of what speakers were saying. They stood and waved their hands in the air to show support and turned their backs on speakers if they disagreed.

Christopher Ott, executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Action Wisconsin, called the legislation an attack on Wisconsin families. "It's time to stop attacking lesbian and gay couples and start
talking about ways we can help these couples and families instead," Ott said. Action Wisconsin found that at least seven of the cosponsors of the legislation are either divorced or getting divorced, including Sen. Dave Zien (R-Eau Claire), who has been divorced three times. "It is hypocrisy...for the cosponsors of these bills to brand lesbian and gay couples as a threat to marriage, when their own marriages failed," said Tim O'Brien, the group's president. Gundrum called the group's divorce findings "inappropriate" and "personal shots."

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