Tag Archives: partner registry

Judge upholds Wisconsin’s partner registry

In a strongly worded ruling handed down today, a Dane County Circuit Court judge upheld the constitutionality of the state’s domestic partner registry.

The ruling came in a suit filed by the anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Action claiming that the registry law violates a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. Former Gov. Jim Doyle enacted the measure, which grants 41 legal protections to same-sex couples, including hospital visitation privileges and the right to take family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner.

WFA argued that the registry created a relationship status “substantially similar to that of marriage,” which is prohibited under the 2006 constitutional ban adopted by voters. Judge Daniel R. Moeser disagreed.

“The (registry) does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage,” Moeser wrote. “Moreover, domestic partners have far fewer legal rights, duties and liabilities in comparison to the legal rights, duties, and liabilities of spouses.”

Moeser said that besides providing only a few of the 200 rights afforded by marriage under state law, registered partnerships differ greatly from marriage in the way they’re legally established. For instance, either registered partner can terminate their relationship simply by informing the county clerk’s office, whereas divorce involves division of property, child custody arrangements and other complex legal ramifications.

“The legal status is very, very different and that’s a very crucial distinction,” said attorney Christopher Clark of Lambda Legal. He litigated the case on behalf of the advocacy group Fair Wisconsin and five same-sex couples who became the lead defendants in the case after Gov. Scott Walker decided not to defend the registry law.

Clark said he was pleased but not surprised by the decision.

“Obviously we’re thrilled, but I have been arguing all along that I did not think this was a close case,” Clark said. “I think this lawsuit bordered on the frivolous. There are lots of states now that have some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples that are not like marriage. To suggest this was substantially similar to marriage was absurd.”

In his ruling, Moeser noted that proponents of the 2006 ban on same-sex marriage had ensured voters it would not legally prohibit arrangements like the one they’re now objecting to, Clark said.

Clark described Moeser’s ruling as “well-reasoned and comprehensive,” which is important to the future of the case. WFA has 45 days to appeal Moeser’s decision, which executive director Julaine Appling says the group plans to do – all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Ironically Appling lives with a longtime female companion in a home the two own jointly in Watertown. Neither has ever married.

Fair Wisconsin will continue fighting for the registry, vowed executive director Katie Belanger.

“When we intervened in this case last year, we knew that it could be for several years and we are prepared,” she said. “In the meantime, we are celebrating our victory with a very strong court decision. It’s definitely the strongest decision we could have hoped for.”

Out state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said he applauded the decision “for rejecting this mean-spirited and unjust attack on same-sex couples.”

“Hopefully, this will put the fears of not being able to visit your loved one in the hospital to rest,” Pocan said. “Today, I call on Republicans to finally focus on job creation rather than divisive social policies that only result in further disenfranchising people.”

Walker drops registry defense

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.”

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

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.