Citing Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee denied in-state tuition to the husband of a local resident who married him in New York.
The case brings to light a little-known consequence of Wisconsin’s ban, which could have been very costly to Dr. Robert Schneidewend and his spouse Jorge Quintero, who was accepted into two programs at the university’s Peck School of the Arts. In-state students annually pay $20,000 less in tuition costs than out-of-state students.
Unable to pay out-of-state rates, Quintero had to drop classes he’d already begun.
Schneidewend has worked in the state for over a year as a resident physician at a Milwaukee-area medical center. During that time, Quintero remained in Chicago, where they met while Schneidewend was in medical school. Quintero completed an associate’s degree during their year apart.
Quintero decided to move to Milwaukee and complete a bachelor’s degree at UWM while Schneidewend finished his medical residency.
The couple’s rejected request for in-state tuition demonstrates the harm Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban does to individuals as well as the state, making it an undesirable place for many talented people to live, said Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger. It also contributes to the state’s so-called brain drain – the movement of bright, talented young people from Wisconsin to more progressive and diverse areas, according to equality advocates.
“This is just another way in which we’re made to be less legal,” added Equality Wisconsin executive director Jason Burns.
The state’s restrictions on same-sex couples were enacted first as a state law and then as a constitutional amendment in 2006, when nearly 60 percent of Wisconsin voters approved limiting marriage or any equivalent status to opposite-sex couples. State statute also allows for the criminal prosecution of same-sex couples who marry out of state. Violators can be imprisoned for up to nine months and fined up to $10,000.
In 2009, Gov. Jim Doyle, D, enacted a domestic registry law that grants some legal rights to same-sex couples, such as the right to visit their partners in the hospital. But the same fundamentalist Christians responsible for pushing the ban are trying to have that law overturned. Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen are supporting their effort by refusing to defend the law, forcing LGBT advocacy groups to foot the legal bill.
Right-wing Christians claim that legal recognition of same-sex couples violates their freedom of religion and undermines the institution of marriage.
Schneidewend said the run-around and rude treatment the couple received from admissions personnel at UWM were unacceptable.
Quintero initially received a letter from admissions/residency specialist Debbie Freiberg stating, “You do not qualify for the work exemption as gay marriages are not recognized in the state of Wisconsin as legal.” The letter advised him to wait 12 months and reapply.
But when Quintero requested an appeals form, the matter turned complicated, according to Schneidewend. He said that during phone calls and finally at an appeals hearing, their requests for information were “often ignored, unresponded to and given inconsistent” responses.
For instance, the couple was told that Schneidewend did not qualify as a full-time, in-state worker because he’s a medical resident. In response, he provided admissions officials with a copy of the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Mayo Foundation v. United States, which determined that medical residents must be treated as full-time employees when it comes to taxes and benefits.
Residents earn income and work very long hours, generally 80 per week.
The couple also was told Quintero failed to qualify because the two had lived apart for a year.
Schneidewend said he got the impression that admissions personnel were looking for other reasons to deny the tuition request so the institution would not appear homophobic. But in the process, officials became increasingly dismissive, he said.
“If you’re going to say, ‘We don’t recognize your marriage,’ then just say it,” Schneidewend said.
Frieberg told WiG the application was denied “for multiple reasons,” but said she could not comment due to privacy laws. She referred WiG to residency coordinator Laura Perkins, who did not return a call. Neither did Karen Wrench in enrollment services.
Despite Schneidewend’s experience with university admissions personnel, he praised the Peck School of the Arts, which he described as another casualty of the rejected tuition request by losing an unusually talented student.
“The voice department and the dance department were actually fighting over Jorge,” Schneidewend said. A professional ballet dancer for 15 years, Quintero decided to study voice. He’d already been cast in the school’s spring musical.
“Jorge blew the audition away,” Schneidewend said proudly. “The chair of the UWM voice area has actually offered to work with him outside the university.”