Wisconsin takes first step toward amending constitution to ban same-sex marriages
February 25 2004 1:00 AM ET
A legislative committee voted Tuesday to approve an amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that would prohibit gays and lesbians from getting married. The assembly judiciary committee voted 6-1, the first step in a long process to amend the constitution. An amendment must pass both houses of the legislature in consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum before it can take effect.
The amendment has outraged Wisconsin's gay and lesbian community, who claim it is meant only to be discriminatory and please Republicans' far-right constituency.
Wisconsin statutes already define marriage as a contract between a husband and a wife and don't recognize gay marriage. But Rep. Mark Gundrum, one of the amendment's main sponsors and the chair of the judiciary committee, said the change was needed to prevent Wisconsin courts from legalizing the practice despite the state statute. He said the state constitution must be changed or the Wisconsin supreme court will follow the Massachusetts supreme judicial court, which ruled that barring gays from getting married is unconstitutional. "Our supreme court could do the same thing," Gundrum said. "This constitutional amendment will protect against an active judiciary. This is about trying to preserve what has always been."
The amendment next goes to the full assembly to vote on the measure as lawmakers face a tight time line to complete work on the amendment during this session, which ends March 11. Steve Baas, a spokesman for assembly speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo), said the measure likely will be scheduled for a vote before the session ends. Republicans control the assembly 59-40. The next session starts in January 2005, and the earliest the amendment could appear on a statewide ballot would be spring 2005.