Wisconsin preps for gay marriage debate
March 12 2004 1:00 AM ET
A proposed state constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions was buried under other bills awaiting action as the Wisconsin senate wrapped up work for the current legislative session.
The senate recessed just after 1 a.m. Thursday after plodding through a handful of bills, with lawmakers planning to return to the floor at 10 a.m. More than 30 bills remained on the calendar before senators could take up the amendment. The amendment was the last of about 30 bills remaining on the senate calendar after lawmakers met for about five hours beginning Wednesday night.
Wisconsin statutes already define marriage as a contract between a husband and a wife and do not recognize gay marriage. But the amendment's supporters fear a judge could overrule the statute and force the state to recognize gay marriages. The state assembly voted 68-27 last week to approve the amendment after an all-night session in which opponents decried the proposal as mean-spirited, bigoted, and shameful.
The proposed amendment must pass both houses of the legislature in consecutive two-year sessions and be approved by voters in a statewide referendum. If passed this year and when the next session begins in January, it could be on the ballot as early as April 2005.
Statewide polls have shown Wisconsinites support an amendment banning gay marriage. The proposed amendment says only a marriage between one man and one woman will be valid in Wisconsin. It also would prohibit any legal status "identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."
Democratic governor Jim Doyle called the proposed amendment "mean-spirited.... I think that the law in Wisconsin is very clear. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Nobody is planning to change that."