As part of federal lawsuit, gay couple seeking legitimacy of marriage

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, March 8, 2014

WHITEWATER--Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning are not sure what they'll do in July to celebrate 25 years together.

But they agree that winning a federal court case and being able to marry would be a great anniversary gift.

On behalf of the women and seven other couples, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit last month seeking to void the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

The suit argues that Wisconsin's Marriage Amendment violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment and denies a basic right to gay couples. The amendment defines marriage in the state as between one man and one woman.

Trampf, 53, and Heyning, 51, both work at UW-Whitewater and live in Madison. Trampf is director of human resources and diversity, while Heyning is dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Madison. Before being named in the suit, the women considered how it could affect them.

“The biggest concern we had initially was how this would impact our respective careers in higher education and what it would be like when our private lives became so public,” Heyning said.

Both agreed they needed to stand up for what they believed in.

So far, the women said the response on campus has been “overwhelmingly positive” from colleagues and students.

“It could be that the people who disagree with us just do not say anything,” Heyning said.

One group speaking out against the suit is Wisconsin Family Action, which helped lead the effort to pass the state's marriage amendment.

“We continue to stand for marriage as it has always been,” said Julaine Appling, president of the group. “It's amazing to me that suddenly marriage has become redefined."

She calls the court action “an end run around the will of the people, which undermines the votes of those who took part in the 2006 election.”

In November 2006, almost 60 percent of voters approved the legislatively-referred constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Wisconsin.

“Why not go through the legislative process, which is the prescribed mechanism for changing the law, instead of trying to find a court that will give you what you want?” Appling said. “I think this is a very sad situation for the state of Wisconsin.”

In addition to supporting the marriage amendment, Wisconsin Family Action has brought a suit challenging Wisconsin's limited-domestic partnership law. It asked the court to strike down the law as being inconsistent with the marriage amendment.

Trampf and Heyning were part of a brief, also filed by the ACLU, which asked the high court to affirm lower-court rulings that the law does not violate the marriage amendment.

In October, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the domestic-partnership lawsuit but has not yet made a decision.

Trampf and Heyning did not have to think long, when the ACLU asked if they would be interested in getting involved in the suit challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban.

“We both felt it was the right thing to do,” Heyning said. “We felt we could represent others who were not able to be involved … We have the full support of our families and friends, and we were in a good position to move forward.”

The federal lawsuit asks for an immediate halt to enforcement of Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage, which State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he plans to defend.

The ACLU said the ban is “especially egregious” because it prohibits both gay marriage and anything similar, including civil unions.

The women said they often get asked why they don't go to another state to get married.

“We can't,” Heyning said. “It's illegal.”

The ban makes it a crime for gay couples, punishable by nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine, to go outside Wisconsin to marry under the state's “marriage evasion” law.

Plaintiffs in the case say that the state's marriage ban sends a message that lesbians, gay men and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who “are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect and protections that heterosexuals and their families enjoy through marriage.”

Overturning the ban would require a court order or another amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution.

Seventeen states plus Washington, D.C., allow gay marriage, including three of Wisconsin's neighbors: Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

Heyning and Trampf have experienced what it is like to be without the rights of marriage. In 2002, Heyning had a seizure while the women were traveling.

“Judi was there when I had it,” Heyning said. “I ended up in the hospital.”

The two had drawn up healthcare power-of-attorney papers, but they did not have the documents with them. As a result, Trampf said, “they acted like I wasn't there.”

Hospital staff deferred health-care decisions to Heyning's brother.

Today, the women have the document on their phones.

“This never would have happened if we were married,” Heyning said. “We love each other and want the legitimacy of marriage. We have made a life commitment to each other in every way, but we cannot marry.”

The women said they plan on spending the rest of their lives together.

“I can't imagine spending my life with anyone else,” Trampf said.

“Judi is the love of my life,” Heyning added.

They refer to themselves as “really boring people,” who are family centered. The lawsuit has made them more introspective about their relationship.

“In our family of six, ours is the longest relationship,” Trampf said. “We've known each other for more than 30 years. Anyone who knows both of us says, 'Of course, you should be married.'”

Both said they are honored to be part of the challenge to the state's same-sex marriage ban.

“We're not publicity seekers,” Heyning said. “This has everything to do with what we believe in. We look forward to a happy conclusion.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

Last updated: 10:03 am Saturday, March 8, 2014

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