Gay and lesbian Wisconsin couples seek marriage licenses

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February 13 2004 12:00 AM ET

Gay and lesbian couples in six Wisconsin cities applied for marriage licenses Thursday, in part to protest a proposed state constitutional amendment that would prohibit them from getting married or entering into civil unions. All were rejected by their county clerks as a legislative committee heard testimony on the amendment, which some state lawmakers proposed after failing to push through legislation late last year defining marriage as between one woman and one man. "If it were up to me, I would personally offer you a marriage license," Dane County clerk Joe Parisi told 11 couples who attempted to obtain licenses Thursday in Madison.

Couple also sought licenses in Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, La Crosse, and Milwaukee, according to Action Wisconsin, a statewide gay civil rights group. Parisi said Wisconsin law, which defines marriage as between a husband and wife, forbids him from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. "I look forward to the day when I can treat you equally," Parisi said.

"So do we," said Sam Kundee, 22, of Madison, who requested a license with his partner, Chris Fitzgerald, also 22.

Opponents of the amendment who testified before the assembly judiciary committee argued that the measure would lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Supporters said the amendment would not preclude employers or others from offering gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. "I'm fearful what the message is," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who is gay, during his testimony before the committee. Pocan and Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) have introduced a bill that would replace every reference in current state law of "husband" and "wife" to "spouse."

But Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), an amendment sponsor, said the change to the state constitution is needed to prevent a Wisconsin court from making a ruling similar to the Massachusetts court. That court ruled earlier this month that only full marriage rights for gay couples is constitutional in that state.

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