Court upholds Wisconsin domestic partner registry

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Associated Press
Thursday, July 31, 2014

MILWAUKEE — A 2009 law creating a domestic partner registry that provides limited benefits to same-sex couples does not violate the state’s ban on gay marriages, a unanimous Wisconsin Supreme Court said Thursday. 

The ruling keeps the registry active but is likely to be overshadowed by a pending gay marriage case. A federal judge declared Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional last month, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals plans to hear arguments in the state’s appeal on Aug. 26. 

The gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2006 provided the basis for the 2010 lawsuit filed by Julaine Appling, the head of conservative group Wisconsin Family Action. She said the domestic partnership registry violated the state ban on same-sex marriages and anything substantially similar. 

But the Supreme Court said the authors of the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage did not mean to bar legislation granting certain rights to same-sex couples, and neither did voters. 

“We see no evidence that voters who approved the Amendment saw it as permitting those rights to be granted only in the kind of scheme Plaintiffs now suggest — that is, in cohabiting domestic relationships that bear no resemblance at all to marriage,” Justice N. Patrick Crooks wrote. 

Appling did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left at her office early Thursday morning. 

Democrats pushed the registry through when they controlled the state Legislature and governor’s office. Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, both Republicans, later refused to defend the law, saying they believed it violated the state constitution.

Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest gay rights group, intervened and defended the law that gives registered couples a host of legal rights, including the right to visit each other in hospitals and make end-of-life decisions for each other.

Christopher Clark, an attorney for Lambda Legal, which defended the law for Fair Wisconsin, said he was pleased gay couples would be able to keep “the limited but very important protections that the domestic partnership registry grants them.”

“We also look forward to the day — fast approaching — when Wisconsin will join its neighbors to the south and west and the growing number of states across the country where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, rendering limited domestic partnership registry unnecessary,” Clark added in a statement.

A Dane County judge and state appeals court both previously upheld the registry. 

About 2,300 couples have signed up to be on the registry over the past five years.

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