Skip to comments.(Wisconsin) Assembly passes marriage measure
Posted on 03/05/2004 6:32:55 PM PST by Indy Pendance
Madison - After a night of partisan wrangling and a session that stretched into a second day, the state Assembly approved a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The expected support held together, and members overwhelmingly approved the measure, 68 to 27, sending it to the Senate in the next step of a lengthy, difficult path where voters would have the final say. Four members didn't vote, but indicated their preference; two voted in favor, and two were against.
Lawmakers were rumpled and unshaven after an overnight session when party leaders struck a deal around 7 a.m. Democrats agreed to allow the Republicans to consider a handful of other matters of business on the calendar before returning to a short, final debate on the marriage amendment and a vote.
Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) was one of two supporters of the proposal to speak during the marathon session. He urged members to pass the measure in order to put the issue of same-sex marriage before the voters instead of leaving it to the courts. After the vote, Gard said he was encouraged by the widespread - and bipartisan - support the amendment received.
"We should not be afraid of the public having a role," Gard said.
Rep. Jim Kreuser (D-Kenosha) said that opponents could have spent days delaying a vote, but that by Friday morning they had accomplished their goal by extending the discussion on the controversial measure. Democrats wanted to prevent proponents from taking a vote in the middle of the night, when few would be paying attention, he said.
The amendment's author, Rep. Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin), said many of the points Democrats raised during the debate on the marriage amendment were "11th-hour red herrings" intended to confuse people. Gundrum was pressed for time and eager to get the action wrapped up - he was due in court an hour away from Madison, to represent a client in a drunken driving case - and said the vote's outcome was never in doubt.
Indeed, halfway through the night, members got their first hint of how the tally might ultimately fall. At 2:25 a.m., members struck down, 69 to 28, a motion by Democrats to reject the proposed amendment.
The setback didn't stop opponents of the measure. The amendment stayed alive, but debate carried on.
The sparring began late Thursday afternoon when Republicans, who control the Assembly 59-40, wanted to deal with dozens of other orders of business before bringing up the constitutional amendment, which would ban gay marriages. But because it was listed first on the schedule, Democrats charged that the rules required it to be considered first.
Discussion turned from procedure to substance after a few hours, and opponents of the measure said they objected to writing discriminatory language into the constitution.
"I'm against same sex marriage, but I do value the constitution of this state and this country," said Robert Turner (D-Racine). "If a few people can change the Constitution to change the rights of a few people, what's to stop them from changing my rights?" he asked.
Supporters said, however, that the amendment is needed, particularly as same-sex marriage grows as a hot-button issue not just in Wisconsin but nationally.
Rep. Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield) said with the potential for courts to change the intent of state law, it's important to protect the institution of marriage at the constitutional level.
"At a time when marriage is undergoing tremendous stress, it's up to the government to protect that," Jensen said.
At times, the scene was reminiscent of the classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," with Democrats settling in for a long night of debate. By 5 a.m., pizza and Chinese takeout from earlier in the evening had given way to Danishes and orange juice.
Because opponents were in the driver's seat, Republican lawmakers were largely absent from the debate - and the floor. Opponents had control of the microphone, and used it to talk about such issues as health care and education in addition to the marriage amendment.
Rep. Tom Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) was one member who carried much of the weight for the Democrats. For nearly an hour in the middle of the night - apparently fueled by a can of Diet Pepsi and an almost-finished bottle of Diet Coke, which littered his desk - Hebl read a list of Wisconsin businesses that offer benefits to partners of homosexual employees.
"I hope everyone heard it, I'd hate to have to repeat it in case someone was sleeping," Hebl said when he had finished.
Many were. Some members curled up on couches and chairs in the parlor at the back of the Assembly chamber, while others snoozed at their desks, with their feet propped up. Others who weren't dozing were sending e-mail or checking news on their laptops as they listened.
Despite opponents' posturing, proponents were confident they had more than enough votes to pass the bill and that delays were pointless. A measure with similar language that would have changed state law - but came short of amending the constitution - passed the Assembly last fall, 68 to 29.
Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the measure, saying state law already clearly limits marriage to a man and a woman. Supporters failed to override the veto.
Under the proposal, the Wisconsin Constitution would be amended to read:
"Only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."
There is urgency behind the movement to pass the measure.
To amend the Wisconsin Constitution, both houses must pass identical language in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before it is put to voters in a statewide referendum. That means lawmakers must vote on the measure before their current session ends next week, then again when the next session convenes in January 2005. Wisconsinites would have their say as early as spring 2005.
On the Senate side, members are expected to consider the measure Tuesday, pending action by the Senate's Judiciary Committee. Part of the Democrats' strategy in the Assembly was to influence next week's activity in the Senate.
Kreuser predicted debate there was likely to shape up as it did in the Assembly, or be even more heated.
"They're in for quite a discussion over there," Kreuser said.
The issue of same-sex marriage has gained national prominence in recent weeks, which is also prompting supporters to push the issue in Wisconsin.
President Bush has called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Meanwhile, city officials in San Francisco and New Paltz, N.Y., have flouted their states' laws and started marrying same-sex couples. And with Massachusetts set to recognize same-sex marriages in May, opponents fear that Wisconsin might be forced to acknowledge them, as well.
Democrats also succeeded in holding up activity on other measures. The Assembly only dealt with part of its planned calendar for Thursday before it adjourned. The remainder of the bills up for consideration will be slated for Tuesday's session.
Following is the breakdown the the 68-27 Assembly vote Friday morning on the proposed marriage amendment:
Republicans voting yes:
Republicans voting no:
Democrats voting yes:
Democrats voting no:
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