Walker drops registry defense

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

Gov. Scott Walker will not defend the state’s domestic partner registry law against a suit filed by the anti-gay organization Wisconsin Family Action, the governor’s office announced May 13.

The governor filed a motion in court seeking either to withdraw from the case or to amend his administration’s position to say the registry law is unconstitutional.

The governor’s move, which was anticipated, comes at a time when right-wing religious activists have blasted the White House for dropping its defense of the federal Defense of Marriage Act because the administration believes portions of that law are unconstitutional. Right-wing Christians have also condemned former Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and current Gov. Jerry Brown for refusing to defend their state’s Proposition 8, a gay-marriage ban enacted by voters, in federal court.

But in Wisconsin, anti-gay activists urged the governor not to defend the law.

News that Walker is dropping the state’s defense of the registry comes just over a month after he fired the attorney defending it in court. The law, introduced by former Gov. Jim Doyle, gives registered same-sex couples 41 of the more than 200 benefits the state offers married couples.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, sued to overturn the law in 2009, charging that it violates a 2006 amendment to the state constitution banning legal arrangements that mirror marriage between same-sex partners.

Appling, who has never married or had children, lives with a longtime female companion in a home that the two own jointly in Watertown.

Equality advocates anticipated Walker’s action and are poised to take over its defense. In December 2010, the LGBT advocacy group Fair Wisconsin won legal standing to intervene in the case with Lambda Legal as chief counsel.

“The governor’s decision highlights why Fair Wisconsin and Lambda Legal intervened in this matter,” said Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest regional office in Chicago. “The domestic partnership law is plainly constitutional.”

“The limited protections provided by domestic partnerships are essential in allowing committed same-sex couples to care for each other in times of need,” said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin. “Fair Wisconsin will continue to fight for the more than 1,700 couples who have already registered as domestic partners, and for those who may do so in the future.”