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GREG DIXON/Herald photo

Elected city and state officials joined members of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission Thursday to encourage voters to help Wisconsin become the first state to turn down a proposed constitutional marriage amendment.

The EOC — a city agency that remedies discrimination complaints and educates the community about legal rights — held the press conference on Capitol Square to address potential negative impacts of the amendment. Speakers focused primarily on the effect on Madison residents.

"The City of Madison, in 1990, established domestic-partnership regulations for persons who are 'in a relationship of mutual support, caring and commitment, and intend to remain in such a relationship,'" said Bert Zipperer, chair of the Madison EOC. "The constitutional amendment language, which is before us in November … clearly destroys that civil right in the City of Madison."

Zipperer added marriage conveys over 1,000 rights and benefits under federal law and nearly 200 more under Wisconsin law, but these benefits would be stripped away under the amendment.

The amendment would ban recognition of any legal status "identical or substantially similar" to the traditional definition of marriage. If the amendment passes, unmarried couples — whether gay or straight — would not be guaranteed the same benefits as married couples.

Though Wisconsin statute already defines marriage as between a man and woman, the statute could be overturned through legislation or by state courts unless the constitution is amended.

"If we don't take a stand now, as our equal protections are not merely stripped but carved into the stone tablet of our constitution, who is left to stand for us when our time has come?" Brian Solomon, a commissioner on the Madison EOC, asked.

Solomon added Wisconsin has historically been a leader in civil rights, as it was the first state to offer workers compensation and unemployment compensation, and the first state to outlaw discrimination against women.

Opponents of the amendment said it eliminates domestic-partner benefits, particularly health insurance, for unmarried couples. Some also think the amendment could affect the state's economy, as it would deter employment.

"The Madison Chamber of Commerce opposes this amendment because they understand that it's anti-economic development and it's anti-prosperity," Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. "We live in what is virtually a full-employment economy here in Madison. We cannot afford to exclude or to turn down anybody in our community."

Cieslewicz agreed with Solomon that Wisconsin has been — and will continue to be — a leader in the nation for civil rights, recognizing a number of elected officials that have taken a stand against the amendment though not required.

"Wisconsin is going to lead the nation again … and then more states are going to turn down amendments like this," he said. "And then states are going to start repealing the amendments they have passed, and then we'll move toward a society that is just and pure and right."

So far, 11 states have passed similar marriage amendments. Wisconsin's amendment will appear on the ballot on Nov. 7.