WISCONSINREPORT.COM (09/22/2009) - The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on behalf of five same-sex couples asking that the couples be allowed to participate in a lawsuit that will decide whether the newly enacted Wisconsin domestic partner law violates the State anti-gay marriage amendment.
Anti-gay activists have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the marriage amendment.
The five same-sex couples are asking the court through the ACLU motion to reject the petition and send the case to a trial court so that evidence can be presented to show that the domestic partner law does not violate the anti-gay marriage amendment that passed in 2006.
"While the domestic partner law falls far short of marriage, we were grateful when it passed that we would no longer have to worry about being able to visit each other in the hospital," said Jayne Dunnum who, along with her partner of 17 years, Robin Timm, registered to become domestic partners when the law went into effect this summer.
"But with this lawsuit those fears are back, and we’d like the opportunity to explain to the courts how this affects us," Dunnum said.
According to the motion filed by the ACLU, the five same-sex couples meet all the legal requirements for becoming a party to the litigation and would suffer harm if the court overturns the domestic partner law.
"We’re hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will recognize that lesbian and gay couples have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve their day in court," said Larry DuPuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
"Only same-sex couples can describe what it’s like to fear not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or being left with nothing when a partner dies without a will," DuPuis said.
"Only same-sex couples can explain what it means to be shut out of marriage and have to accept a poorly understood second-class status as domestic partners with 43 legal protections versus more than 200 that come with marriage," Dupuis continued.
Anti-gay activists who are seeking to take away the legal protections for registered domestic partners have claimed that they need a speedy resolution and are entitled to go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because the modest legal protections granted to same-sex couples through the law somehow affect the marriages of straight couples.
They also claim that it would be in the best interest of lesbian and gay couples to have a speedy resolution even though they are asking the court to strip domestic partners of all legal protections.
According to the ACLU, there are important factual issues in the case, such as the many ways in which domestic partnership differs from marriage, that call for the kind of testimony that same-sex couples can provide to the Court. The ACLU official stand is that to consider this important evidence, the Court should refuse to accept this case directly but instead allow a circuit court to develop the factual record.
The ACLU claims that during the political campaign for the anti-gay marriage amendment that is the basis for this lawsuit, these same anti-gay activists told the voters that domestic partner benefits would not be affected by the amendment and that the state would be allowed to pass a law giving same-sex couples some legal protections.
John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project, had the following description of what the ACLU believes has taken place:
"The anti-gay activists misled the voters into passing the amendment by saying that it would not affect the rights of domestic partners, Knight said. "Then they tried to prevent the legislature from providing modest legal protections for same-sex couples."
"Soon after the bill went into effect, they brought a lawsuit to take those protections away, based on the amendment that they said would not affect such rights" said John Knight.
The five same-sex domestic couples asking to be allowed into the lawsuit are from Plattville, Eau Claire, Madison and Milwaukee.