Marriage equality not on the horizon for Wisconsin

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Although Gov. Scott Walker has hired out gay staffers, including two who were convicted of crimes they committed while working for him as Milwaukee County Executive, he strongly opposes marriage equality.

Wisconsin’s neighbor Minnesota may have become the 12th state in the country to legalize same-sex unions on Tuesday. But gay marriage is not on the legislative agenda in Wisconsin, and that’s not expected to change in the foreseeable future.

“I just don’t think it’s very likely in this state anytime soon,” said Joe Heim, a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist, told Post-Crescent Media. “It’s pretty clear that public opinion in the United States is leaning toward gay marriage (but) I just don’t see Wisconsin joining that (group) anytime soon.”

Wisconsin’s constitution, unlike Minnesota’s, bans same-sex marriage.

In November 2006, nearly 60 percent of Wisconsin voters supported an amendment banning gay marriage.

Voters would have to pass an amendment undoing the 2006 amendment language before Wisconsin lawmakers could consider a bill to allow gay marriage. But even before that, the Legislature would have to pass the amendment in two consecutive sessions.

There are more immediate obstacles to gay marriage than constitutional procedures, however.

Republicans have firm control of state government in Wisconsin and, as a party, they oppose gay marriage.

The Republican Party’s 2012 national platform stated that “the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, suggested this week that his party is not shifting.

“The Wisconsin constitution states that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Vos said in a statement. “Two consecutive legislatures passed this resolution and the people of Wisconsin voted to amend the constitution to provide the definition of marriage in 2006.

“Wisconsin also has a statewide domestic partnership registry,” he said. “I think that we’ve found an appropriate balance on this issue.”

Heim thinks Wisconsin and Minnesota have historically similar progressive pasts, but that has changed.

“But they started going one direction, we started going another,” Heim said. “Politics here have become much more extreme left and right. The result of that is, the probability of us following Minnesota on this is pretty low.”

State Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, thinks momentum is changing on gay marriage.

“It’s obvious that this is a civil rights question of our time and I think even those Republicans who were pushing to define marriage in a very divisive way are questioning that now,” he said. “That push will come back to haunt them, as the state and the rest of the country moves forward on this topic.”

After Republicans took control of state government in the 2010 elections, they controlled the redistricting process and redrew legislative boundaries that some say gave them an advantage in future elections. Heim said that if the districts instead had been redrawn to make each district competitive, Democrats would be in charge today.

Heim said in a high turnout election, such as a presidential race, a vote to overturn the ban could pass.

But he added that given Republicans’ redistricting advantage, they don’t have to really pay that much attention to public will on the issue. And, Heim said, Republicans would be unlikely to cross their party on the issue because they could face a primary challenger.

“It could generate opposition in your own party,” he said.