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Wisconsin governor seeks to undo damage from ban on civil unions

As Governor, Jim Doyle knows that the constitutional amendment that passed last month denying same-sex couples marriage and civil unions has damaged his state’s reputation — and he wants the legislature to look at ways to undo the tangled political mess. (

Doyle said he believes it was unfair for opponents of gay marriage to include a provision in the amendment that would ban any relationships “substantially similar” to marriage.

The amendment, which passed with 59 percent of the vote, also defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“I do not believe people in Wisconsin would have voted ‘no’ on civil unions,” Doyle said.

As we saw in Colorado, people did have the option to vote to enable marriage-like benefits for gay and lesbian couples and they deep-sixed that as well as passing a marriage amendment, so Doyle shouldn’t feel so confident about that belief. What he’s proposing is another constitutional amendment to ban discrimination. Whether that would succeed in providing significant benefits without running afoul of the marriage amendment is questionable, and would enable watered-down third class status (not even civil unions) to gay partnerships.

Judith Brant, project coordinator for the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, which supported Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment, agreed that it would bar civil unions that conferred all the same benefits, obligations and responsibilities as marriage.

But, she added, “if the Legislature were to enact something that gave certain benefits but would not rise to the level of marriage, I think the amendment would permit that.”

That is what it is all about. The heterosupremacists don’t want to appear to be cruel given the public’s turn against the savage bigotry exhibited by the fundies, but they want to continue to assert that all the legal rights, conveniences and privileges conferred with marriage remain the domain of heterosexual couples only.

Still, local activist remain hopeful that something is better than nothing.

Mike Tate, who directed the unsuccessful campaign to defeat the gay marriage ban, said Doyle’s comments came as “exciting news.”

He said it was clear to him after more than a year on the campaign trail that Wisconsin’s citizens were in favor of some form of civil unions.

“Their main qualm is that they were not there on the issue of marriage, but they did believe we should provide some sort of basic legal protections for people who choose to spend their lives with each other,” he said. “We saw that time after time.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding