On the homestretch to the November elections, campaigns focused on the gay-marriage amendment referendum have grown increasingly contentious.
The referendum, authored by State Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, seeks to constitutionally define marriage as between one man and one woman. The issue has spurred the creation of a number of organizations statewide, some emphasizing student participation. Mike Tate, campaign manager for the opposition group Fair Wisconsin, held a teleconference Wednesday with student media across the state to discuss the issue.
"We focus a lot on college students and educating them [about the referendum]," he said. "We believe the youth vote to be the deciding factor in this election."
Tate added that Fair Wisconsin and the amendment are not focused exclusively on gay marriage, as the second sentence of the referendum outlaws anything "substantially similar" to marriage.
"The ban goes beyond marriage," he added. "It's a ban on civil unions and would endanger many critical legal protections and could jeopardize health care."
And a number of lawyers across the state have publicly denounced the referendum, saying it denies citizens their rights. Last week, 17 former — and the two current — presidents of the State Bar of Wisconsin spoke out against amendment, and the group Attorneys Against the Ban launched. The AATB, now composed of about 100 attorneys around the state, was formed to educate and mobilize attorneys throughout Wisconsin against the proposed amendment.
Yet Julaine Appling, executive director of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, told The Badger Herald such action by attorneys is an appalling use of their position.
"The State Bar's actions show they have a political position not based in a correct interpretation of state statutes or what the [Wisconsin] Constitution does and does not say about our rights," said Appling, who is also president of the newly formed Vote Yes for Marriage campaign. "The Constitution is about limiting government power."
Appling added the language of the amendment is such that it will actually prevent the need for extensive litigation on the marriage issue.
In 2004, Kentucky passed an amendment similar in language to the proposed Wisconsin amendment, which has not seen a legal challenge to date. In Ohio, though, opponents have attempted to use the state's marriage amendment to undo domestic violence protections, saying the allowance of restraining orders in a domestic relationship violated the prohibition of a legal status similar to marriage.
University of Wisconsin political science professor Donald Downs noted the key underlying issue for unmarried couples under this amendment: "Gay couples presently don't have the right to marry, but they do have the legal and political possibility of that right being recognized," Downs said. "If we amend the Constitution, it will make it impossible for them to secure that right."
If defeated by voters in the Nov. 7 election, Wisconsin would be the first state in the country to defeat a proposed marriage amendment.