Updated November 18, 2005 Compiled & written by Mike Fitzpatrick
It’s Back: Republicans Begin Efforts To
Pass Wisconsin Gay Marriage, Civil Union Ban
Madison - The constitutional ban on civil unions and marriage is once again a live issue at the state Capitol. On November 17, State Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Representative Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin) began asking lawmakers to cosponsor the amendment’s required second passage for a future statewide referendum. The deadline for cosponsors was November 21.
Regardless of the number of co-sponsors, Capitol insiders expect the bill to be re-introduced prior to the holiday recess. The amendment must then go before legislative committee hearings and finally to the full Senate and Assembly.
The entire process could rapidly unfold in early December or any time after mid-January. The committee hearings will provide the one opportunity for citizens to testify for or against the legislation. Both opponents and supporters of the bill expect easy passage in the Assembly. The senate vote is expected to be much closer, where Republicans hold a slimmer majority.
The timing of the amendment’s sponsorship memo took many activists on both sides by surprise, but followed a week and a half of renewed interest in the amendment. Action Wisconsin and Center Advocates held one year “pre-anniversary” events the week of November 5, gaining statewide press coverage.
On November 16 two of the state’s largest circulation papers - the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Madison’s Capital Times - simultaneously editorialized against the amendment. Both papers characterized the amendment’s scheduled November 2006 referendum vote as political trickery being used to impact the gubernatorial race.
After noting that the amendment could have been voted on as early as Spring 2005, the Journal Sentinel opined: “The obvious strategy is to get residents who back the amendment so worked up that they’ll come to the polls in larger numbers than they would have otherwise and, while there, cast a ballot for the Republican candidate for governor.”
Calling the GOP strategy a “disgusting tactic,” the Capital Times suggested the the Republicans “think that by appealing to the crudest bigotries, they can draw to the polls voters who will cast ballots for GOP contenders in close contests, and vote to amend the constitution in a hurtful way.”
The Madison editorial, while noting that “there are still plenty of bigots, plenty of ignorant individuals and plenty of partisan hacks looking for ways to exploit the worst instincts of some voters,” pointed to the recent November elections that suggested that “the ranks of the anti-gay crowd are dwindling.”
A number of Capitol insiders suggested the sudden issuance of the sponsorship memo was an attempt by the bill’s lead sponsors to regain “both mission and message control,” noting that the amount of recent negative spin on the marriage ban issue could tar the statewide GOP, mirroring public opinion surveys documenting the mounting statewide disgust with the Bush administration over the Iraq war and the handling of hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“The way things are going for Republicans across the board right now, the votes to pass the amendment might not be there next Spring like they had planned,” one insider told Quest, referring to Assembly Leader John Gard’s June 2, 2005 letter to Julaine Appling of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin. In that document, the subject of a Quest exclusive report later picked up by the mainstream press statewide, Gard had outlined a Spring 2006 introduction strategy to the FRI Executive Director, whose is organizing support for the amendment.
Appling recently shared that her group has shipped DVDs called “The Battle for Marriage in Wisconsin” to 4,000 mostly independent evangelical churches to help mobilize support. Appling also claimed church leaders already have gathered about 75,000 signatures backing the amendment.
Christians For Equality, a coalition of mostly mainline Protestant congregations and denominations opposing the amendment, have seen success countering the FRI efforts with major votes by regional governing bodies of the state’s Presbyterian, United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Evangelical Lutheran denominations in addition to individual congregations.
Despite the recent passage of a gay marriage ban in Texas, Action Wisconsin’s Executive Director Chris Ott remains confident the same outcome may not in Wisconsin’s future. “Unlike Wisconsin, Texas has never been a civil rights vanguard - for anybody,” Ott said following the November 8 vote, comparing the Texas tally to Maine’s vote to uphold its gay rights law by a more than 10% margin. “We can have a win in 2006 in Wisconsin too.”