In 2003, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle vetoed a bill that sought to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The Republican-led legislature then initiated a constitutional amendment process (which passed 19-14 in the state Senate on a strict party-line vote and 62-31 in the state Assembly earlier this year).
Wisconsin voters will now join the long list of states that in recent years have sought to define marriage via constitutional amendment in response to the perceived and actual push of the legalization of same-sex marriage (e.g. Massachusetts in 2003). Twenty states have adopted a constitutional amendment preserving traditional marriage through the ballot box, and six additional states (plus Wisconsin) will be voting on the issue in the November election. Wisconsin seeks to define marriage on the ballot as follows:
"Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."
The amendment is expected to pass, although support in recent polls hovers around 50% - a much lower level of support than the average level of support voters have given similar amendments in 20 states during the past eight years (68% - ranging from a high of 86% in Mississippi and Missouri to a low of 58% in Oregon).
The conventional wisdom after the presidential election of 2004 was that the religious right turned out in greater number to back the state-sponsored amendments seeking to protect the traditional definition of marriage on the ballot in 12 states that November. This support from religious conservatives was seen as a crucial factor in Bush's reelection victory.
But the truth is only 4 of those 12 states were in play for both Kerry and Bush to begin with: Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, and Oregon. Of these four states, voters demonstrating the greatest support for such amendments (Missouri, 86%; Ohio, 62%) went for Bush, while Michigan (59%) and Oregon (58%) went for Kerry.
All this may have the Democrats and Doyle camp wondering: will voter turnout and the marriage referendum have an impact in Wisconsin's gubernatorial race?