[JURIST] The Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] on Wednesday unanimously upheld [opinion text] the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] and civil unions. A voter challenged the passing of a referendum banning both same-sex marriages and civil unions, claiming that each type of union should have received its own vote as per a Wisconsin separate amendment rule. The Wisconsin Constitution [text] reads, “provided, that if more than one amendment be submitted, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against such amendments separately.” The court established a test to determine if a referendum violates this rule and determined that this particular one did not:
In short, the sponsors of the amendment wanted to protect the current definition and legal status of marriage, and to ensure that the requirements in the first sentence could not be rendered illusory by later legislative or court action recognizing or creating identical or substantially similar legal statuses. The purpose of the marriage amendment, then, was to preserve the legal status of marriage in Wisconsin as between only one man and one woman. Both propositions in the amendment tend to effect or carry out this general purpose.
The court noted that its decision was based purely on whether the amendment was adopted in conformity with a constitutional requirement and “not whether the marriage amendment is good public policy or bad public policy.” The state had also challenged the plaintiff’s standing to file suit altogether, questioning whether he had been harmed by the referendum. The court ruled that the plaintiff could challenge the referendum because he at least had a trifling interest as a voter whose rights might have been violated.
Several jurisdictions in the US have legalized same-sex marriage. In March, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] denied an emergency appeal to prevent Washington DC’s same-sex marriage law from taking effect. Chief Justice John Roberts, acting as circuit justice for the DC area, denied [JURIST report] an application [text, PDF] requesting a stay pending further review of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 [text, PDF]. With that, DC became the sixth US jurisdiction to allow for same-sex marriages, joining Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports]. Supporters had looked to Wisconsin to be a leader in the gay rights movement before the state passed the marriage ban [JURIST report] in 2006, with more than 59 percent of the state vote.