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JIC Post: By Ryan FoleyAssociated PressWisconsin voters will decide in November whether to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage and civil unions after the proposal cleared its final hurdle in the Republican-controlled Legislature Tuesday evening.The state Assembly's 62-31 vote puts the amendment on the state ballot in November, when voters will also determine whether Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle will get a second term in office.A majority vote would add 43 words to the constitution declaring the state recognizes only marriage between one man and one woman and does not grant a similar legal status to unmarried individuals, such as civil unions.Supporters said the amendment would defend marriage from legal challenges seeking to grant same-sex couples the right to marry, such as one that was successful in Massachusetts. The amendment would also ban civil unions in which gay couples are granted the same benefits as married couples."An issue of this importance will be decided by the people of this state -- not an activist judge," said Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo.Critics said the amendment is not needed because state law already defines marriage as between a husband and wife. They contend the amendment would outlaw benefits such as health care provided by many municipal governments and private companies to partners of gay employees.Supporters acknowledged the courts would have to sort out what benefits could be offered to gay and unmarried couples. But they said the intent was to defend the tradition of marriage as between one man and one woman.Democrats railed against the bill on the Assembly floor for more than three hours. They called it a mean-spirited attempt to draw more conservatives to the polls in hopes of defeating Doyle in his bid for a second four-year term.The governor vetoed a previous attempt to define marriage as between one man and one woman and has denounced the amendment, which bypasses his desk.The two Republicans seeking their party's nomination for governor -- U.S. Rep. Mark Green and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker -- both support the ban."This is a cynical right-wing attempt to motivate the base for the fall elections," said Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids.Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison and the only openly gay member of the Assembly, called the amendment "state-sponsored discrimination."The Assembly conducted the emotional debate under heightened security as Capitol aides blocked access to a hallway next to the chamber.Gard said he ordered the move because lobbyists were being too loud, but Democrats accused him of trying to keep critics of the amendment out.Schneider confronted Gard in the hallway to criticize the move. "Go to hell, Marlin," Gard responded.The vote was mostly along party lines but outgoing Rep. Gregg Underheim, R-Oshkosh, broke with his fellow Republicans to oppose the amendment after delivering a passionate speech.Six Democrats -- Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee, Tony Staskunas of West Allis, Terry Van Akkeren of Sheboygan, Mary Hubler of Rice Lake, Annette Williams of Milwaukee and Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc -- voted for the amendment.The Assembly vote was widely expected and supporters and opponents of the amendment have already spent months building campaign machines for what is expected to be an intense and costly fight.Eighteen states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage or to declare marriages between gay and lesbian couples invalid, according to Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.Constitutional amendments in Wisconsin require approval in the Legislature in two consecutive sessions before voters decide in a statewide referendum. Both houses approved the proposal in March 2004 and the Senate did so again in December.Gay rights supporters say Wisconsin's process takes longer than other states and has given them more time to mobilize voters to oppose the amendment. Action Wisconsin, which is leading the fight, has identified 75,000 voters sympathetic to its position, amassed more than 4,000 volunteers and recruited churches, labor unions and other groups to help.On the other side, the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin is distributing materials to churches and recruiting volunteers to build support for the plan."If you have a majority of four liberal lawyers in black robes that want a policy changed, they will just do it," said Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin. "The only way to stop them from doing it is to amend the constitution."
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