Friday, August 20, 2010

Wisconsin's Domestic Partnership Law Challenged by Anti-Gay Group

Supporters of Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions sought Wednesday for the second time to have the state's domestic partnership registry declared unconstitutional.

Wisconsin Family Action brought the lawsuit after failing last year with a case it took directly to the state Supreme Court. Once again, Family Action is arguing that the state-recognized partnerships for gay and lesbian couple are "substantially similar" to marriage and therefore banned by the state constitution.

"Our system of government serves no purpose if our elected officials can completely and capriciously ignore the will of the people with impunity," said Julaine Appling, the president of Family Action and one of the plaintiffs. "A reasonable person observing this registry would easily conclude that it is intended to mirror marriage."

In 2006, Wisconsin voters strongly approved a constitutional ban on both marriage and a "legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage" for same-sex couples.

In June 2009 as part of the state budget, Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers approved the partnership benefits for qualifying couples. They include some but not all of the benefits married couples receive, including allowing domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions, and have hospital visitation rights.

The process and fees for registering a domestic partnership is similar to that for getting a marriage license, which is what makes them similar to marriage, the lawsuit says.

In July 2009, Family Action sued to block the registry, taking the case directly to the state Supreme Court, which declined the group's petition without comment in November.

During the budget process last year, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Council reviewed the proposal and said the partnerships would be consistent with the state constitution. But state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, declined to defend the registry in court, saying that it was inconsistent with the will of voters and that he would "abide by their command."

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