Green Bay might join anti-gay group in fighting partner registry

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

Green Bay City Council might join with Wisconsin Family Action’s efforts to overturn the state’s domestic partner registry law.

An unusual proposal to involve the city in the lawsuit was approved Oct. 25 by the council’s Protection and Welfare Committee, acting on a request from Ald. Shae Sortwell. If enacted by the full council on Nov. 3, the measure would authorize the city’s legal department to contact WFA and offer its support in overturning the law.

Approved by state lawmakers and enacted in 2009, the registry grants same-sex couples 41 of the more than 200 benefits offered to heterosexual married couples, including hospital visitation rights and family leave for medical emergencies.

But WFA’s suit contends the registry “mimics marriage” and thus violates a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage or any legal status “substantially similar” to that of marriage.

WFA president Julaine Appling told the Green Bay Press Gazette that she did not ask for the city’s help and doubts it will affect the suit’s outcome. But she said it would help sway public opinion on the issue if council passed the measure.

“That sends a very powerful message, and we appreciate it,” she said.

Seventy-five same-sex couples in Brown County are registered as domestic partners under the state law, according to Fair Wisconsin director Katie Belanger.

The never-married Appling and her longtime companion Diane Westphall are not registered as domestic partners. The two women live in a home they own together in Watertown.

Observers said Sortwell’s proposal was an act of retaliation against an openly gay city truck driver who asked the council to consider extending medical benefits to the same-sex partners of city workers. But Dave Fowles’ request to look into partner benefits was dropped without comment over the summer.

“I think the most distributing part is that this is really about retribution for one individual who had the courage to stand up before his employer and his city government and ask for equal treatment,” Belanger said. “(City council members) are focusing on political tactics to undermine and strip even the most minimal protections from caring and committed couples.”

“It’s mind-boggling,” Fowles told the Press Gazette. “It’s like you’re taking progress and you’re tearing it down.”

Belanger said Fair Wisconsin would take action in Green Bay on Nov. 3 when the council votes on Sortwell’s proposal.

Elected to city council for the first time this year, Sortwell also backed an ordinance to exempt Green Bay from the state’s public smoking ban.