Wisconsin Democrats Plan Legislation to Codify Marriage Equality

by | Jan 1, 2024 | 0 comments

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of President Biden signing the “Respect for Marriage Act,” which codified marriage equality for both queer and interracial couples, Wisconsin Democrats announced in a press release that they planned to introduce similar legislation to update Wisconsin’s constitution to guarantee marriage equality. Senators Mark Spreitzer and Tim Carpenter, along with Representatives Greta Neubauer, Lee Snodgrass, and Marisabel Cabrera all co-sponsored the bill, stating that they “reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that our state is just and equitable for all Wisconsinites, and hope that our legislative colleagues will join us in supporting these important bills.”

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of James Obergefell and made marriage equality the law of the land, saying that it was guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. But many started getting nervous that this decision would be overturned when, following the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas, himself one half of an interracial marriage, stated that marriage equality was next up on the chopping block, using his concurring opinion on the Dobbs decision to state that the court should reconsider the three decisions that currently protect same sex couples and their right to privacy. In response to this statement, Congress passed a bill codifying marriage equality, with bipartisan support. President Biden signed it into law in December 2022.

With the Obergefell decision still intact, and the Respect for Marriage Act still a federal law, these new bills by Wisconsin Democrats might seem redundant and unnecessary. Wisconsin Public Radio addressed this with “The Wisconsin legislation’s authors say that, although same-sex marriage is the law of the land, aspects of Wisconsin family law still presume that any married couple comprises a man and a woman. The proposal would replace that language with gender-neutral references to ‘spouses.’” They continue that the changes would especially target parental rights, and would “allow married couples to jointly adopt children and to jointly claim a child conceived through artificial insemination. And it would change language about how to establish ‘paternity’ to ‘parentage,’ for purposes of determining which adults are legally the parents of a child.” There is also a separate proposal to change language in the state constitution that was added in 2006 defining marriage as being “only between ‘one man and one woman.’”

Fair Wisconsin, the statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights and political advocacy organization, included the following statement from Executive Director Megin McDonell:

Currently, 35 states including Wisconsin have statutory or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Although we have the precedent of the Obergefell and Wolf decisions, if these decisions were to be overturned our constitutional ban would most likely go into effect. The Respect for Marriage Act does not supersede Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment and does not require every state to allow same-sex marriages. It simply requires that if a marriage is performed in the future in a state where it is legal, it must be recognized by any other state.

Enshrining protections for marriage equality was and still is core to Fair Wisconsin’s mission. It is far past time to remove the outdated and unenforceable constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, update our state statutes to remove gendered language, and add gender identity and expression to our non-discrimination laws.

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