The Wisconsin assembly approved an amendment to the state constitution on Friday to ban same-sex marriages or civil unions to counter efforts elsewhere to legalize the partnerships. After an all-night meeting, the lawmakers voted 68-27 to back the proposal and send it to the state senate. More approval from lawmakers and voters would also be required for it to become law, with a statewide referendum coming no earlier than April 2005. Wisconsin statutes already define marriage as a contract between a husband and a wife and do not recognize same-sex marriage. But backers fear a judge would overrule that. "Amending our statutes is not going to address the problem," said Republican representative Mark Gundrum, the amendment's main author.
Fourteen states thus far this year are seeking to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. States in recent years have already acted broadly in opposition to the prospect of same-sex marriages, with 39 of them passing so-called defense of marriage laws. Three have already amended their own constitutions to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and a fourth, Hawaii, has amended its constitution to allow the legislature to decide whether same-sex marriage should be legalized.
The Wisconsin assembly first took up the proposed amendment Thursday afternoon and continued into early Friday as its opponents spoke vigorously against it. Democratic representative Tom Hebl said the amendment's 43 words were among the most spiteful ever put on paper. "It's liberty and justice for all, unless you're gay and lesbian," Hebl said. Supporters largely declined to enter into a debate, refusing to answer questions about the amendment's merits. "We need to have this in our state constitution, or we are every bit as vulnerable to activist judges instituting same-sex marriage as they did in Massachusetts," Gundrum said. To take effect, the proposed amendment would have to pass both houses of the legislature in consecutive two-year sessions and be approved by voters in a referendum.