Groups say state’s gay-marriage ban establishes religion

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and its allies have asked a federal appeals court to uphold a lower court’s ruling that struck down Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban. 

By Bob Allen

Two dozen religious and public policy groups filed a legal brief Aug. 11 arguing that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

Groups including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Interfaith Alliance Foundation and Metropolitan Community Churches claimed the state’s 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman was intended to impose a particular religious view of marriage on everyone — including liberal Christians, Jewish groups and other faith traditions holding more inclusive views.

The brief recognizes that religious belief can play an important role in how people vote on matters of public policy, but it points out that courts have ruled that, in order to be constitutional, laws must have a primary purpose that is secular and that bigotry, even if religiously motivated, is no basis for denying a civil right.

It notes that many of the groups that supported the marriage amendment, including the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, appealed to biblical law. While many faith groups, such as the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, oppose marriage equality as part of their official doctrines, it says, others, like the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association, believe that committed same-sex relationships are not inherently sinful.

barry lynn“A handful of religious fundamentalists do not have the right to define marriage in Wisconsin or any other state,” said AU Executive Director Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “The Constitution simply does not allow for laws based in religious dogma.”  

The brief asks the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb striking down Wisconsin’s marriage amendment as a violation of the rights of same-sex couples to equal protection under the law. Crabb’s June 6 decision was the 20th consecutive ruling by a state or federal judge to overturn a same-sex marriage ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in February challenging the marriage amendment on behalf of four same-sex couples seeking either the right to marry in Wisconsin or recognition of their legal marriage performed in another state.