October 1, 2014

Wisconsin domestic partnership registry upheld by Supreme Court

WRN file photo

WRN file photo

The state Supreme Court says a 2009 state law creating a domestic partnership registry in Wisconsin does not violate a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage or the creation of any similar status. The ruling backs decisions made in Dane County Circuit Court and a state appeals court.

In a unanimous decision released on Thursday morning, the high court said the registry does not grant a status that’s substantially similar to marriage. Writing for the court, Justice Patrick Crooks said that “that the framers of the Amendment intended specifically to allow legislation that provided a set of rights and benefits to same-sex couples,” also noting that “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, with same-sex couples only as incidental beneficiaries.”

Julaine Appling with Wisconsin Family Action, which challenged the registry, said she was disappointed in the outcome of the case, but notes that the court highlighted in its ruling that “marriage remains between one man and woman in our state.”

Proponents of the registry praised the ruling. Katie Belanger with Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest gay rights group, said it proves “the Wisconsin State Legislature created the domestic partnership registry in accordance with the laws of the state, and we’re glad that we can finally move on from this long and unnecessary battle. We’re happy for the thousands of same-sex couples in Wisconsin that need the domestic partnership registry to protect themselves and their families.”

Fair Wisconsin and Lambda Legal took over defense of the registry, after Governor Scott Walker’s administration and the Department of Justice declined to continue defending it in court.

About 2,300 couples have registered domestic partnerships since the law took effect. The impact of the ruling remains unclear, after the state’s ban on gay marriage was recently overturned by a federal judge. The decision remains on hold though, while the case is appealed.