Judge Upholds Wisconsin's Domestic Partnership Registry

A judge ruled Monday that Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry does not violate the state's constitutional amendment that prohibits marriage for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

Signed into law by former Gov. Jim Doyle (D) in 2009, Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry provides limited, but important, protections for gay and lesbian couples, including the ability to visit each other in the hospital, take a family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner, make end-of-life decisions and inherit each other's property.  To date, approximately 1,700 couples have signed up for the registry, about 1,300 of which signed up during the first four months it was available in 2009.

Last summer, members of the anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit arguing the registry was unconstitutional.  Not so, ruled Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel R. Moeser.  According to his ruling, the domestic partnership registry does not create a legal status for partners that is identical, or substantially similar, to that of marriage; therefore it does not violate the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006.

"The state does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage," Moesner said in the ruling.  "Moreover, domestic partners' have far fewer legal rights, duties and liabilities in comparison to the legal rights, duties and liabilities of spouses."

Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action says the group plans to appeal the ruling.

"This is an exciting day for Wisconsin," said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the statewide LGBT-advocacy organization that lobbied lawmakers to approve the registry in 2009.  Fair Wisconsin also intervened to defend the registry, along with Lambda Legal, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year fired the attorneys former Gov. Doyle had appointed to defend the law.

"We are pleased that the Court upheld the limited protections provided by domestic partnerships because they are essential in allowing committed same-sex couples to care for each other in times of need," said Belanger.  "This is an exciting day for Wisconsin.  Domestic partnerships marked our state's first step toward full equality in nearly 30 years.  Judge Moeser's decision will ensure that we can continue advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Wisconsinites in years ahead."

GLAAD congratulates our colleagues at Fair Wisconsin and Lambda Legal on this important victory.  At the same time, we strongly encourage the media to report on what the domestic partnership registry provides for the loving and committed gay and lesbian couples in Wisconsin who are simply trying to take care of and be responsible for each other.