When it comes to
statewide votes on marriage, the score so far is 20-0
in favor of keeping it a one-man, one-woman
institution. If there's a chance to break the streak
on November 7, it might be in Wisconsin, where
activists believe that support from unions, college
students, and church leaders--coupled with
hoped-for conservative apathy--could enable them to
finally overcome the string of losses.
Among the hopeful are Debbie Knepke and Candice
Hackbarth, devoted partners for nine years, raising a
3-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son in a pleasant
Milwaukee neighborhood. They have joined some 8,000
other volunteers in a bid to defeat a proposed state
constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex
marriages and civil unions.
''It makes us mad that the Christian
conservatives are so against us,'' said Knepke, 41.
''If they came into our house, they'd find we're no
different from anybody else. We're every single thing they
consider good parents to be.''
Eight states will vote on anti-marriage
equality amendments in November, following 20
that previously approved such measures. Passage is
considered certain in Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota,
and Tennessee, but gay rights strategists believe
their side is at least competitive in Arizona,
Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Supporters of banning same-sex marriage remain
confident of victory, but optimism also is high in the
ranks of Fair Wisconsin, a coalition that has been
fighting the proposed amendment since it surfaced in the
legislature in 2004. Large labor unions, many religious
leaders, and top Democratic officials--including
Gov. Jim Doyle--have spoken out against the measure.
''This could be the state where we beat this
thing,'' said Fair Wisconsin campaign chief Mike Tate.
''I'm not saying it's easy, but we've got the right
ingredients on the table.''
Tate believes the same-sex marriage issue, which
helped motivate conservative voters in 2004, is no
longer commanding the same urgency, possibly
diminishing conservative turnout. One reason is the recent
court rulings in New York State and Washington State
against same-sex unions, leaving Massachusetts as the
only state allowing same-sex marriage.
The head of the rival campaign, Julaine Appling
of Vote Yes for Marriage, said her side may wind up
being outspent and out-advertised, but she believes
Fair Wisconsin's confidence is misplaced.
''It's a gross misunderstanding of the people of
Wisconsin,'' she said. ''They are good solid stock.
They understand that marriage is a good public
institution--it's appropriate to protect it as the
union of a man and a woman exclusively.''
There have been no major opinion polls since mid
August, when a survey showed Appling's ''Yes'' side
with 48% support, compared with 40% against the
amendment. Tate says the gap is narrowing as undecided
voters tilt against the measure; Appling believes the
final result will be in line with Michigan and Ohio,
where similar measures prevailed with roughly 60%
support in 2004.
One of Appling's allies, Marquette University
political scientist Christopher Wolfe, believes the
amendment will pass, though perhaps narrowly. ''It's
certainly a lot closer than the people favoring the
amendment would like,'' said Wolfe, who observed that even
at his Roman Catholic school many students oppose the ban.
Tate, at 27 a veteran of numerous campaigns,
believes campuses statewide will provide vital support
for his side. ''This is a motivating issue for young
people, whether they're gay or not,'' he said.
While Milwaukee and the state capital, Madison,
tend to veer leftward, the rest of the state is
generally more conservative. But opinions are deeply
divided. Among those opposing the amendment is Sue Werblow,
60, a longtime school board member in Oshkosh whose
three children include a gay son now practicing law in Seattle.
''I would hope and pray people will stand up for
nondiscrimination in our constitution, but it's
anybody's guess,'' she said. Her son, observing from
afar, ''thinks we're going to lose this battle.''
Kathleen Mentink, a college instructor in Eau
Claire who favors the amendment, said most people in
her area share her position, ''but it's a quiet
support.'' Some voters, she suggested, have been wary of
revealing pro-amendment views for fear of being
depicted as narrow-minded.
Debbie Knepke finds it hard to be dispassionate.
Because the children she helps raise, Sienna and
Nolan, were borne by Hackbarth, Knepke has no legal
standing as a parent and fears passage of the amendment
would dim her chances of ever gaining such recognition.
''It's the living in fear of what might
happen,'' she said, fighting back tears. ''I can't
imagine, if something happened to Candy, that I would
not have my children.''
The campaign has divided Milwaukee's black
community. U.S. representative Gwen Moore is among
several black leaders opposing the amendment, while
the ''Yes'' campaign has recruited a cadre of black pastors
who are urging their congregations to support it.
Among them is the Reverend Walter Harvey, pastor
of the 2,500-member Parklawn Assembly of God. ''Those
who oppose the amendment are more aggressive in their
advertising for a reason,'' he said. ''The burden of
proof is upon them--they have a longer hill to climb,
more people to convince. They will ultimately lose.''
Moore, a single mother, vehemently objects to
the second sentence of the amendment, which would ban
civil unions and other legal arrangements
''substantially similar'' to marriage. She worries that such
terminology could spawn litigation challenging all
sorts of informal family relationships, including
benefits her own children have received from their father.
Appling insists that domestic-partnership
benefits will not be banned as long as they don't
parallel marriage rights. But Moore contends the
amendment betrays Wisconsin's politically progressive tradition.
''A constitution is a sacred document--we
use them to confer rights on people, not to write in
discrimination,'' she said. ''It's completely the
wrong vehicle for this kind of negative activity.''
In addition to Wisconsin, three other
states--Arizona, Colorado, and
Virginia--are viewed by gay rights strategists as
having closely contested campaigns this fall over
proposed constitutional amendments that would ban
same-sex marriage and civil unions. A brief look at the campaigns:
ARIZONA: If this election is close, it will be
because of a section of the proposed amendment that
would bar local governments and state-run schools from
recognizing any relationship similar to marriage, such as
civil unions or domestic partnerships. Phoenix mayor Phil
Gordon, among others, has criticized the measure,
saying a ban on domestic partnerships could hurt the
city's ability to recruit skilled employees.
Bruce Merrill, a pollster and political
scientist at Arizona State University, says roughly
two thirds of Arizonans favor limiting marriage to one
man and one woman, while an almost equally large
majority support domestic partnerships. He suggested
some Arizonans oppose the amendment simply because
they view it as government intrusion into private matters.
''If there's a frontier mentality left, it's in
mountain states,'' he said. ''There's an attitude of
'Leave us alone.'''
COLORADO: This campaign is unprecedented
because, in addition to the amendment to ban same-sex
marriage, there is a separate measure placed on the
ballot by gay rights supporters that would establish the
legality of domestic partnerships providing same-sex
couples with many of the rights of married couples.
Both measures could be approved, both could lose, or
one could prevail but not the other.
The showdown has drawn some large contributions:
$500,000 for the marriage ban from the political arm
of the Colorado Springs-based Christian
ministry Focus on the Family, and an even larger sum for the
domestic-partnership measure from a foundation overseen by
software millionaire Tim Gill, a major backer of gay
VIRGINIA: Recent polls show Virginia's ban
likely to win approval, but opponents have mounted a
strong campaign, raising more than twice as much money
through August as the ban supporters. Opponents of the
measure include Gov. Timothy Kaine, a Democrat, who
says some of its provisions might impede legislators
if they wanted to extend legal recognition to
unmarried couples in the future.
Dave Fleischer, a political organizer for the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, commended the
activists running anti-amendment campaigns in all
these states but said they remain underdogs. ''Whether we
have a chance or not, once it's on the ballot, we
don't have a choice but to give it everything we've
got,'' he said. ''If we don't fight these, the message
we send is that we're a safe group for fundamentalists and
right-wing bigots to attack--it's like wearing a sign
that says, 'Kick me.''' (David Crary, AP)