Friday, July 24, 2009

On Wisconsin and Gay Marriage

My home state of Wisconsin, with its cows and its cheese curds and its rolling hills and red barns and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and its Dells and its beer and its Packers and its two Great Lakes and its circus world museum is bucolic and picturesque as a pastoral postcard. Except when it comes to gay marriage. I should add that Minnesota, where I live now, is picking along at a snail's pace, but improving in the same way. Just this week the city St. Paul progressed and established a domestic partnership registry! YAY!

In 2006 in Wisconsin the gays and their right to marry got voted out in a lesser publicized election than California's 2008 Prop 8. I lived in Wisconsin during that time and voted NO against a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage should be only be between a man and a woman. Obviously. Say No to hate, my sisters and brothers.

To allow voters a vote to legalize discrimination is not only anachronistic, it is appalling at the basest level. We can only be defined by our worst, if discrimination is our route.

As it so happens in many of elections, the wording on the WI 2006 ballot was slightly confusing, and if you were not paying attention and maybe just glancing through, your vote may have gone to the opposite of what you believe. I mean, are we voting yes to allow gay marriage or no that we're against it? No, that was not the way it was worded. It was "Yes" to write discrimination into law and no to allow our gay brothers and sisters the same rights as the heteros among us.

All the bigots came out of the woodwork to defend the so-called "sanctity" of marriage and they won. For now.

Governor Jim Doyle (D) introduced legislation to try to combat this bigotry by establishing a domestic partnership registry in Wisconsin for the 2010-11 budget cycle.

But, now, according the the Wisconsin State Journal, three members of different groups of right-wing, anti-gay zealots who say they are pro-family are fighting this in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. I linked to the WSJ article, but here it is in full:

Group seeks to kill domestic partnership law
Associated Press

Social conservatives asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday to strike down the state’s new domestic partnership law, saying it violates a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The lawsuit, filed by three members of Wisconsin Family Action, acknowledges the court will not have time to act before the law goes into effect next month but says justices should halt registrations as soon as possible.

Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signed the law in the state budget last month. Starting Aug. 3, same-sex couples can register with counties to receive dozens of the same legal protections as married couples, including the right to inherit assets, make hospital visits and take medical leave to care for an ill partner.

Wisconsin became the first Midwestern state to enact legal protections for same-sex couples through the Legislature. It also became the first nationwide to allow domestic partnerships despite having a ban on gay marriage and any "substantially similar" relationships.

The lawsuit argues domestic partnerships violate that clause in the constitution, approved by voters in 2006, because they are "virtually identical" to traditional marriages. Wisconsin Family Action led the campaign for the ban and threatened legal action against the law for months.

"This new domestic partnership scheme is precisely the type of marriage imitation that the constitutional amendment approved by Wisconsin voters was intended to prevent," said lawyer Brian Raum of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group representing the plaintiffs.

One of the plaintiffs, Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling, called the law "an assault on the people, the state constitution, the democratic process, and the institution of marriage."

The lawsuit notes the steps to register domestic partnerships are similar to obtaining marriage licenses and says same-sex couples will receive "a substantial number of the significant legal rights and obligations historically reserved to married couples."

It names as defendants Doyle and two officials responsible for administering the registry, Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake and State Registrar of Vital Statistics John Kiesow.

Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner pledged to vigorously defend the law.

"We’re confident these are, and always have been presented as, just a set of basic legal protections for committed couples," he said.

One hurdle that Wisconsin Family Action members face is proving they have standing to bring the lawsuit. They claim they do because they are harmed by the use of tax dollars to administer the registry.

A memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Council concluded this spring the law should survive a legal challenge because it does not give "comprehensive, core aspects of the legal status of marriage to same-sex couples." Those include the ability to divorce and share marital property.

Another obstacle is that supporters of the ban repeatedly said it was not intended to stop government from providing health, retirement and other benefits to same-sex couples short of marriage. Those statements were a key point in the Legislative Council analysis.

"Legally, it’s clear they have no basis for the lawsuit," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, a gay man who sponsored the law. "They simply don’t like a certain group of people."

The lawsuit was filed with the state’s highest court to speed up the outcome by bypassing lower courts. Four of the court’s seven justices would have to agree to hear the case.

Raum said he hoped to have a high-court decision "within a matter of weeks."

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