Wisconsin’s Marriage Ban
On November 7, 2006, Wisconsin voters approved the following amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution:
“Only a 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.”
The amendment prohibits marriage for gay and lesbian couples. It also prohibits civil unions or any “substantially similar” legal status that would grant all of the rights of marriage to gay couples or other unmarried couples. The full scope of the amendment will likely be determined over the course of many years by Wisconsin courts.
The amendment does not invalidate other legal protections, such as domestic partnership protections or LGBT inclusive employee benefit packages. Nevertheless, Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the domestic partnership law to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2009. Read more about Fair Wisconsin’s legal defense of domestic partnerships.
Who Supported the Amendment?
The Wisconsin Family Council was the lead organization supporting the constitutional amendment. The chief authors in the legislature were Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Representative Mark Gundrum (R-New Berlin).
Curious about how lawmakers voted on the measure as it moved through the legislature? Wondering where your state senator and representative stood? Find out more about the voting records here.
Challenging the Amendment
Professor William McConkey, a political science professor at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, also filed a suit against Attorney General Van Hollen in McConkey vs. Van Hollen. In his petition, McConkey asserts that because the amendment bans both marriage equality and civil unions it is in violation of our state’s single subject requirement for constitutional amendments.
Because the issues of marriage and civil unions have differing levels of public support, we agree that the amendment is in violation of the requirement that an amendment only address one topic. Voters see marriage and civil unions as different institutions and as such should be treated separately. Fair Wisconsin joined with Lambda Legal and the ACLU LGBT Project to file an amicus briefing to support McConkey’s assertion.
The Supreme Court held oral arguments in November 2009 and issued their decision on June 30, 2010. By a unanimous vote, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the 2006 amendment. Read Fair Wisconsin’s statement on the court’s decision.