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ELECTION 06: Marriage amendment in Wisconsin faces considerable opposition

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of special preview stories about the 2006 Election.

Today: A preview of the marriage amendment vote in Wisconsin.

Tomorrow: A preview of efforts in Arizona and Colorado to pass marriage amendments.

MADISON, Wis. (BP)–If a constitutional marriage amendment is to be defeated at the polls this year, both sides agree Wisconsin just might be the state to do it.

It is the lone state considering an amendment on Election Day to have voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. Wisconsin, in fact, hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since 1984 and was one of only nine states to vote for Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988.

The proposal has drawn opposition from newspaper editorials, labor unions, university board of regents and several prominent politicians, including Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who is running for re-election and is leading in the polls.

“If you can think of an organization, they’ve probably come out in opposition to us,” Rocco DeFilippis, a spokesperson for Wisconsin’s Vote Yes for Marriage campaign, told Baptist Press. “… Wisconsin is viewed as the first place that one of these amendments can get defeated.”

Nevertheless, pro-family leaders in the state remain hopeful, mostly because of their belief that churchgoers will get out and support the amendment. Recent polls have shown it with anywhere from 48 to 51 percent support.

A win would be significant, giving conservatives another marriage amendment victory in a “blue” left-leaning state, joining Hawaii, Michigan and Oregon. But a loss also would be groundbreaking: In 20 tries, a marriage amendment has never lost at the ballot. Seven other states will consider such proposals on Nov. 7.

Pro-family leaders, DeFilippis said, have spent recent weeks traveling the state, speaking in churches and telling Christians why the amendment is necessary to protect the natural definition of marriage. They’ll need those Christian voters: Through the first six months of this year, Fair Wisconsin — the major group opposing the amendment — reported raising $1.3 million, according to The Capital Times newspaper. By contrast, Vote Yes for Marriage raised $2,500.

If the amendment is to pass, DeFilippis said, Christian conservatives must get out and vote.

“We’re looking at this like we’ve got five smooth stones — just like David and Goliath,” he said. “We’re focused on the church. It’s a true grassroots movement within the body of believers in this state. That’s where we’ve spent all our time.”

The Wisconsin amendment campaign might have received an early Christmas present from the New Jersey Supreme Court, which on Oct. 25 gave the state legislature 180 days either to legalize “gay marriage” or Vermont-style civil unions. Wisconsin’s amendment would prohibit both; New Jersey had no amendment.

“[N]ow people are saying, ‘You know what? This can happen [in Wisconsin],” DeFilippis said.

Fair Wisconsin has been using two primary arguments against the amendment: that it goes too far and that it’s not necessary. The latter point, DeFilippis said, is now obsolete.

“This New Jersey decision just took the wind out of their sails on that argument,” DeFilippis said.

Much of the controversy over the amendment has focused on its second sentence, which would prohibit the legalization of any “legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals.” It is aimed at preventing civil unions or California-style domestic partnerships from being legalized in the state. Fair Wisconsin, though, asserts on its website the amendment also would “seriously endanger existing legal protections for all unmarried couples.”

DeFilippis counters by noting Kentucky’s constitution has the exact same language in its constitution and hasn’t had any of the problems about which Fair Wisconsin warns.

“To this day there have been none of the negative side effects,” DeFilippis said.

Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that have no law on the books explicitly prohibiting “gay marriage.” Its legislature passed a defense of marriage law in 2003 that would have protected the natural definition of marriage, but Doyle vetoed it. Not giving up, legislators then set out to put a marriage amendment on the ballot. They completed the lengthy process earlier this year.

If the amendment fails Nov. 7, any future “gay marriage” lawsuit would be decided by the seven-member Wisconsin Supreme Court. William Bablitch, a former justice on the high court, says it is impossible to predict how the court would rule.

“In my judgment that would be a very, very close vote on the court,” Bablitch told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It could come out either way.”

But DeFilippis and other conservative voters are determined that the state high court never gets a chance to take up such a case. If the amendment passes, the high court would be bound to uphold the natural definition of marriage.

“This is about the definition of marriage and it’s about who gets to decide it,” DeFilippis said. “Is it the people of Wisconsin or is it going to be a judge?”
— For more information about Wisconsin’s marriage amendment, visit: www.voteyesformarriagewi.org.
— For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust