Less than a decade after the state voted to enact a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, a recent study shows a major change in Wisconsinites’ attitudes toward gay and lesbian couples and their civil rights.
In contrast to the 59 percent of voters who cast ballots in favor of invalidating same-sex marriages in 2006, a study funded by Fair Wisconsin found that today, 51 percent of Wisconsinites support allowing same-sex couples to marry.
The poll is indicative of a trend that has become increasingly widespread nationwide, one of a growing acceptance and inclusion of same-sex couples into American society, Fair Wisconsin President Katie Belanger said.
“We are seeing more and more people coming out and living their lives openly, and that will continue to increase as society becomes more and more accepting,” Belanger said.
Although the numbers are still not where Belanger and other marriage equality groups would like to see them, the study also found that 40 percent of Wisconsin residents now view gay and lesbian individuals in a favorable light, a 26 percent increase from a similar poll conducted in 2005.
In 1982, Wisconsin passed the nation’s first law that protected people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Today, 67 percent of Wisconsinites agreed transgender people should be ensured these same protections against employment and housing discrimination, Belanger said.
“Those numbers are very exciting because it’s the first time we’ve been able to see where people are at and a strong majority of Wisconsinites believe in fully inclusive non-discrimination,” she said.
Belanger also said the poll is another example of how the issues of social and legal equality for the LGBT community are no longer a question of “if,” but “when.”
Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said marriage equality for same-sex couples in America is not far off and state advocacy groups like ACLU are pushing the fight forward in the courts.
ACLU helped bring about a ruling in United States vs. Windsor, a Supreme Court case where the federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse,” which included only heterosexual couples, was ruled unconstitutional.
ACLU Wisconsin is currently working to bring a lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional on the basis of equal protection under the law, a path Ahmuty said has proven successful for states such as Oklahoma and Utah.
“There is no reason to have these bans in place, particularly since marriage is a fundamental right,” Ahmuty said. “There is a lot going on around the country and a lot going on in Wisconsin, and I think that it is in large part because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Windsor case recognized a new understanding for same-sex marriage couples and how it impacts real people and real families.”
While the courts are on track to strike down Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban, the state Legislature can also repeal the ban, although the issue currently lacks the legislative support for that to be a viable option, Belanger said.