Marriage Equality Package introduced

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MADISON - The Marriage Equality Package was introduced into the state Assembly on Thursday by Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa, D-Milwaukee, and State Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee. The package has two pieces, including a constitutional amendment and the Marriage and Family Equality Act, that would update Wisconsin's laws to more effectively recognize same-sex couples' unions.

The constitutional amendment would repeal a 2006 amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The amendment no longer can be enforced after the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which legalized same-sex marriage across the nation.

In order to amend the state's constitution, Spreitzer said the state legislature would have to vote in favor of the amendment twice in consecutive sessions, then the public would have to vote to approve the amendment.

He estimates the earliest the amendment would be on the ballot would be 2019 or 2020.

"There's no doubt in my mind that voters would approve this," Spreitzer said.

He said public opinion has shifted on the issue of same-sex marriage, and same-sex marriage would then be protected in the event the Supreme Court ever overturned its decision.

The Marriage and Family Equality Act, if passed, would update all of the state laws to reflect marriage equality, Spreitzer said.

This would affect everything as minor as obtaining a husband and wife's fishing license to more critical cases regarding parenting, artificial insemination and adoption. Often times Spreitzer said same-sex couples are forced to hire an attorney to fight for their rights.

"Wisconsin law must be read in a gender neutral way that recognizes equal rights for all married couples," Spreitzer said. "However, because of Wisconsin's outdated statutes and constitution, many same-sex couples face continued legal challenges, particularly when seeking parental rights. We must address the discriminatory language of our state's legal system and allow for the inclusion of all Wisconsin residents."

Spreitzer, Zamarripa and Carpenter are three of the four openly LGBT members of the Wisconsin State Legislature. In the State Assembly, Spreitzer was the lead author on the Marriage and Family Equality Act, with Zamarripa as a second author. Zamarripa was lead author on the amendment, with Spreitzer as a second author. In the Senate, Carpenter was the lead author on both pieces.

Both of the bills are currently out for co-sponsorship, and Spreitzer is hoping for support from across aisle. He said the bill was introduced last year after the Supreme Court case but received no support from Republicans, who hold a majority in both the state Assembly and Senate.

"I think it will pass eventually. I don't know if it'll pass this session, but I'm hoping to build momentum," Spreitzer said.

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