Updated December 8, 2005 Compiled & written by Mike Fitzpatrick
“Open Season” Call Changed Hansen’s Amendment Vote
Madison - If the amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution banning legal recognition of all unmarried couples’ relationships is defeated, either in the Assembly or by voter referendum next year, Republicans pressing for the measure may be able to point to a single answering machine message as the reason the bill was killed.
The message was left by an amendment supporter who felt comfortable enough in his opinion to identify himself on the answering machine in Senator Dave Hansen’s (D-Green Bay) office, according to staffers. The message suggested legislators create a new Constitutional amendment creating an “open season” on gays and lesbians, an implicit reference to the state’s recently concluded gun deer hunting season.
The message, in full, said: “We, we, gotta stop these queers, Ron. There’s no question in everybody’s mind that this can not go through. Uh, we, we - this is gettin’ ridiculous. We gotta, we gotta stop this. There’s no such thing as, as queer marriages. We gotta stop it. In fact, you know, I think we should have an amendment - uh - put on the ballot, a referendum. Maybe we should have an open season on those people and just let ‘em know how we really think. Okay? Bye.”
Hansen, who had voted for the amendment on its first passage last year, cited the phone message in remarks he made on the Senate floor as he offered an amendment to eliminate the second sentence of the amendment that would invalidate any “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.”
“In fact, I received a voice mail from a constituent who believes the next amendment we should pass is one that creates an ‘open season’ on ‘those people’ so we can show them what we really think about them,” Hansen said, after pointing out that “it has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it.”
In offering his amendment Hansen had made it clear he supported a traditional definition of marriage. “A year ago I cast my vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act as an extension of my firm belief that traditional marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman,” Hansen said. “In these turbulent times of moral uncertainty, we need to affirm our commitment to the fundamental family values that made our nation and our state strong.”
Hansen then charged the bill’s supporters of political demagoguery. “It has become increasingly clear that this Act is not about celebrating marriage as we know it,” Hansen said. “Instead, it has been usurped by those who would use it instead for political gain in the upcoming elections and to spread fear and foment hate. It is the crassest of political strategies. And attempting to turn our Constitution into a campaign document is a dangerous tactic.”
Hansen’s amendment was defeated on a party line vote. However, Hansen’s later “no” vote on the second passage of the amendment bill, along with that of Senator Roger Breske (D-Elderon), robbed the Republicans of the “bipartisan support” of the bill, touted during the debate by lead sponsor Scott Fitzgerald (R-Beaver Dam).
Hansen staffers also told Quest the senator was comfortable voting against the measure since it followed Hansen’s often repeated promise for his votes to reflect the will of the voters in his district. Staffers reported that in the final days before the vote, callers opposing the amendment outnumbered supporters by more than fifty.
Staffers also noted that information about the harm to same-sex and other unmarried couples provided by amendment opponents in the year since the first vote swayed Hansen on the issue. However, it was the hatred of gays and lesbians expressed by a significant number of amendment supporters - particularly the “open season” call - that finally changed the senator's vote.
The bill will taken up by the Assembly in early 2006, where the Republicans hold a 59-40 majority. After the expected passage, the measure will be on the November 2006 ballot.