GREEN BAY - With the Supreme Court of the United States striking down the federal provision that denied benefits to legally married gay couples and allowing same-sex unions in California, what might those decisions mean for Wisconsin?
The court ruled Wednesday married gay Americans can receive federal tax, health and pension benefits. It also let a lower court's ruling that California's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional stand.
The rulings come during a time of transition in the country.
The number of states permitting same-sex partners to get married has doubled from six to 12 in less than a year.
The changes came about in different ways. Voters in Washington, Maryland and Maine gave approval in November referendums. State legislatures in Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island approved gay marriage this spring.
At the same time, an effort to legalize gay marriage in Illinois stalled last month in its state legislature.
And 30 states – including Wisconsin – have same-sex marriage bans in their constitutions.
A state group against same-sex marriage says today's ruling is problematic.
"The federal government ought to be able to determine the definition of marriage for its purposes, just as, in the one sense, the states can," said Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action.
And as Wisconsin voters did in 2006 as a part of a statewide referendum.
Article XIII, Section 13 of the Wisconsin State Constitution says:
"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."
Appling says keeping marriage between a man and a woman is essential for raising children.
"No one's disputing that two women or two men cannot love a child and provide for a child," said Appling in a phone interview with FOX 11. "But what they cannot do, two men cannot be both a mother and a father. Two women cannot be both a mother and a father."
State lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups say momentum for marriage equality in the state is growing.
"Today is a huge victory for equality across our country," said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin. "Achieving full marriage equality is not a matter of 'if,' but a matter of 'when.'"
Belanger says the state's 2006 gay marriage ban still limits marriage equality.
"We still have a lot of work to do in Wisconsin," said Belanger in a phone interview with FOX 11. "We have a constitutional ban on marriage equality and civil unions. We're working hard to repeal that measure in the years ahead."
The absolute earliest that could happen would be April 2015. Two consecutive state legislatures would have to approve the referendum question and then put it before voters in the state.
"It's quite a difficult hurdle to overcome," explained St. Norbert College political science professor Charley Jacobs of the difficulty of changing the state's constitution.
Jacobs believes to do that, it would take a large amount of public support.
"Even that might not budge a legislature that's primarily Republican, which tends to push back against those kinds of alterations of the traditional place of marriage in the community," he said.
A recent FOX News poll of American voters shows 46 percent of voters in the country favor legalizing gay marriage; 47 percent oppose it.
Breaking news from Fond du Lac County, where firefighters are battling a blaze in Ripon.
Photos of a fire on Watson St., the main street in downtown Ripon, Dec. 11, 2013.
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