Monday, April 25, 2011

Will Recent Polling Help Protect the 2009 Wisconsin Domestic Partnership Law from Reversal?

A Table

A Clock


A Dog

All three of which people should not marry according to Lieutenant
Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

Few elections in recent years have been more disappointing than the Wisconsin vote on Constitutional Referendum No. 1 in 2006.  Here is the referendum's text:
"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."
Using the referendum to constitutionalize discrimination against a significant portion of our state's citizens was a shameful and partisan exercise that was duplicated around the country in states controlled by Republicans. 

There was already a state statute on Wisconsin's books prior to 2006 that prohibited recognition of same sex marriage. Nevertheless, the Catholic Bishops of Wisconsin came out strongly in support of the referendum. Madison's bishop, Robert Morlino, went to the extent of directing all his parish priests to play his recorded statement just days before the November 2006 election, in place of the usual Sunday homily of the parish priests, in which he urged parishioners to vote in favor of the referendum.  Obviously, as a Catholic cleric, Bishop Morlino did not have to worry about dealing with the impact of the constitutional provision on the self-fulfillment and sense of self-worth of his own children or grandchildren.  Nothing about the legal status of gay marriage or civil unions in Wisconsin prior to the referendum served to threaten church doctrine that gay marriage should not be afforded sacramental status by the church.  Having to necessarily support the second sentence of the referendum, in urging its adoption, made it seem a particularly sad but expectable position for officials of the church to take.  I've previously posted on how the church hierarchy now seems out of sync with a majority of American Catholics on gay rights. One has to wonder if the opposition to gay civil unions or gay marriage on the part of Catholic bishops would have been so forceful in the absence of the pedophile scandals rocking the church over the past ten years.

To make it onto the ballot in 2006, the referendum had to be twiced passed by both houses of the Wisconsin legislature, which it was on primarily party line votes.  In 2004, the Republicans controlled the Wisconsin Senate 18-15 and the Assembly 58-41.  In 2005, the Republicans controlled the Senate 19-14 and the assembly 60-39.

The votes by the two sessions of the state legislature were:

March 5, 2004 - Assembly voted 68-27 (at least 10 democrats voted in favor)
March 12, 2004 - Senate approved the referendum language 20-13 (at least 2 democrats voted in favor)
December 6, 2005 - State Senate voted in favor of the referendum 19-14 along party lines.
February 28, 2006 - Assembly voted a second time to put the referendum on the ballot.

In the November election in 2006, the referendum passed 59% to 41% state-wide.  Only four counties had "no" voters in the majority:  Dane, Eau Claire, Iowa and Portage.  Dane County voters disapproved of the measure by over 2 to 1.  In the other three "No" counties the margins against the referendum were very small.  In more Republican counties such as Waukesha and Washington the "yes" votes out-polled the state-wide averages by three to six percentage points.

It is questionable whether the referendum would pass today in Wisconsin.  Nate Silver does a political column for the New York Times, and recently noted how dramatic the recent polling has been in showing the change in attitude towards gay marriage in the United States:
A poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.
This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.
Here is a graph from Silver's April 20 blog post showing a regression analysis of the polling since the mid-90's:

Based on the graph the election results in Wisconsin in 2006 on the gay marriage/civil union banning referendum mirrored pretty closely the nationwide polling in 2006.

Since 2006, the state passed a domestic partnership law which provided for some of the legal protections afforded to married couples.  You can read analyses of the protections here and here.  The Marquette University Law School Faculty blog has speculated that the Walker administration and Republican legislature may be contemplating a reversal of the law:
Moreover, there are some indications that the Walker Administration may be planning to initiate an effort to repeal the Domestic Partnership law — in late March, Gov. Walker dismissed Lester Pines, the lawyer retained by his predecessor to represent the state in defending the law.  Given the razor-thin margins by which the partnership registry law passed in 2009, the current Republican majority clearly has the power to repeal the law should it be inclined to do so.
Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch took an interesting stand on the new domestic partnership law before the November 2010 election (as reported by Daniel Bice in the Journal Sentinel):

Liberal bloggers recently turned up an interview that Kleefisch, a former television reporter, had done in January with an evangelical Christian radio station. In the talk, she criticized the state's new domestic partnership registry, calling it fiscally irresponsible and contrary to the Bible.
"This is a slippery slope in addition to that," Kleefisch said. "At what point are we going to OK marrying inanimate objects? Can I marry this table or this, you know, clock? Can we marry dogs? This is ridiculous. Biblically, again I'm going to go right back to my fundamental Christian beliefs, marriage is between one man and one woman.
(Kleefisch later expressed regret for her remarks.)

Hopefully the recent polling on public acceptance of gay marriage will cause the Governor and state legislature to rethink any plans they may have formed to reverse the domestic partnership law.

Here is a graph that may hopefully make some sense to some thinkers on the issue, even if the logic of it may be lost on the Lieutenant Governor:

Thanks to the Prose before Hos Network for the Graph.

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