Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Sides rally for November marriage referendum

[media-credit name=’YANA PASKOVA/Herald photo’ align=’alignright’ width=’336′]gaymarriage_yp_416[/media-credit]Activist organizations statewide are launching renewed campaigns in an effort to mobilize Wisconsin voters before November's referendum to decide whether gay marriages and civil unions will be banned.

Following Tuesday's controversial Assembly vote to pass the constitutional amendment onto state residents, groups on both sides of the argument are weighing in on an issue many speculate will divide the state.

"By setting up the question in a referendum, they've kind of highlighted this very clear-value conflict," said University of Wisconsin journalism professor Dhavan Shah, who specializes in political participation.


The value conflict rests upon whether gay couples should be permanently barred from having any legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage.

While most Republicans support the resolution as a precautionary measure to prevent judiciary activism, Democrats charge the amendment is unnecessarily discriminatory.

The resolution, Democrats argue, would hurt same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike by threatening health care benefits and other legal protections.

According to UW Chancellor John Wiley, the amendment works to discourage potentially skilled professionals from coming to the university. Currently, UW is the only college in the Big Ten that does not offer domestic partnership benefits.

"The university doesn't have a unified position on most controversial issues … But there are some issues where it directly affects our operations … and on those I feel I have not only the right but also the responsibility to tell the Legislature and the public what it means for us if this passes," Wiley said. "For us, it's bad news."

Wiley added the university has lost faculty and staff in the past, and will continue to lose potential faculty members in the future unless domestic partnership benefits are offered.

"We've had people that we've tried to recruit who told us that, 'I'd never come there because of this issue,'" he said.

However, Republican backers said the amendment is only intended to protect the institution of marriage, not prevent domestic partnership benefits.

As both sides of the issue rush to communicate their arguments to the public before the Nov. 7 referendum, Shah said the upcoming election may become more about the ban than the candidates themselves.

"When you set things up as a value conflict … it really simplifies people's voting decisions," he said. "The thing that's interesting about it is that in a general election, a candidate's position on [the amendment] can become the overarching issue."

And it seems activist groups are working to make the ban just that.

According to the respective spokespersons from Action Wisconsin and the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, their groups have been working for nearly two years to raise public awareness and concern, although for opposing values.

FRI Executive Director Julaine Appling said the organization formed the Wisconsin Coalition for Traditional Marriage in anticipation of the amendment and has been distributing literature, creating DVDs and phoning state residents.

Appling added the FRI will announce a new initiative within the next couple weeks.

"The Assembly vote [Tuesday] night gives the Wisconsin people the opportunity to have their say on marriage, to say what marriage will be, without a court determining for us," she said.

Action Wisconsin spokesperson Ingrid Ankerson also expressed optimism for November's vote, but said she believes the amendment will fail as Wisconsin citizens are "very fair-minded and independent voters."

Ankerson added Action Wisconsin launched its "Fair Wisconsin" campaign following the vote, which utilizes training sessions, discussion groups and Internet blogs.

"Because the campaign is such a personal issue for lots of people, we really wanted to let people from across the state into the conversation," she said.

According to Shah, new methods of mobilizing voters may prove powerful tools, as studies have shown "civic messaging works just as well as face-to-face talking."

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