Effort to repeal Wisconsin's gay marriage ban launched

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Wisconsin equality advocates readying to repeal anti-gay amendment.

UPDATED: Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin today (Feb. 13) announced a drive to repeal the state's constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

State Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, and state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, made the announcement at the state Capitol in Madison, joined by legislative colleagues and marriage equality advocates.

Zamarripa, who is bisexual, said she cried herself to sleep after voters passed the amendment in 2006.

Carpenter, who is gay, said the legislation has the support of all 15 Democrats in the Senate.

The Democrats' bill would set in motion the process of asking voters to repeal the constitutional amendment they passed in 2006, when a Christian-right campaign to block marriage equality was rushing over the country.

Since then, through court rulings and legislative action, the tide has turned. A growing number of states —17 plus D.C. — have legalized same-sex marriage and the federal government, following a Supreme Court ruling last summer, has instituted reforms to recognize legally married couples in its benefits programs and policies.

Meanwhile, opinion polls show majority support for marriage equality and some 40 lawsuits seeking marriage equality have been filed in 20 states, including in Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Madison to overturn Wisconsin's anti-gay amendment and a measure on the books that makes it a crime for gay couples to get married out of state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, its national organization and the law firm of Mayer Brown filed the suit, which is Wolf v. Walker, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Four same-sex couples — three couples who want to marry and one couple that married out of state — are the plaintiffs.

The defendants include Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a defendant, along with state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Revenue Secretary Richard G. Chandler, State Registrar Oskar Anderson, Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King, Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph Czarnezki and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell.

"Clearly, courts and lawmakers across the nation have embraced the implications of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "That decision has had huge implications for loving, committed couples across the country."

The repeal campaign parallels the legal effort. Said Dupuis: "The proposed repeal in Wisconsin is a valuable and important effort to in the freedom to marry and improve public understanding and support of a critical civil rights issue. This bill complements our litigation, which will demonstrate that Wisconsin's marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution."

"Repealing our ban and moving one step closer to allowing same-sex couples to join marriage is critical to ensure that all families are treated with dignity and respect," said Katie Belanger, president and CEO of Fair Wisconsin."

A ballot question, however, would take a while to reach voters.

"We have a lot of work to do in order to ensure this effort is successful in Wisconsin," Belanger said, adding that "no state has passed full marriage equality without broad bipartisan support. For that reason, we encourage all members of the state Senate and state Assembly to stand on the right side of history — no matter what side of the aisle they stand on — and help move our state forward."

On its website, Fair Wisconsin states, “Repealing any amendment to the Wisconsin constitution is a multi-year process and replicates the steps to amend the constitution. First, two consecutive sessions of the legislature must pass the resolution. Following the passage of the repeal measure, the matter is put to a statewide referendum.  Because this process involves both the legislature and the electorate, the level of support required for successful repeal is substantial.”

Wisconsin Democrats focused on marriage equality in the party's weekly radio address, suggesting that while voters may not see a marriage equality question on the ballot in November, marriage equality may be an issue in the primary and general elections in 2014.

State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said in the address, "Wisconsin has always been a state that values freedom, tolerance and equality. Unfortunately, Wisconsin's constitution does not stand for the same. Under Wisconsin's current constitution, not all are treated equally in the eyes of the law."

He added, "My legislative colleagues and I have introduced legislation to again put the question of marriage equality to a vote of the residents of our state. We believe that it is time to reverse our state's discriminatory language in the constitution because stronger families make a stronger Wisconsin. Let's give Wisconsin (residents) the opportunity to voice their opinions at the ballot box because inequality is not a Wisconsin value."

On the Web …

Fair Wisconsin has been organizing support for a repeal campaign, encouraging advocates of marriage equality to connect through its Action Center.