Chair Brandon Williams introduces ASM


Vice chair Adam Johnson introduces ASM

An advocacy group and several same-sex couples moved to defend Wisconsin’s domestic partnership law Friday against a lawsuit which would strike down the statute.

Fair Wisconsin and five gay couples began legal proceedings they anticipate would interfere with a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Family Action claiming the domestic partnership law provides same-sex couples with benefits that were too close to those provided by marriage.

Fair Wisconsin said in a motion the domestic partnership rights are unique from those reserved for heterosexual married couples.

“We believe they are not substantially similar to marriage and provide critical protections all caring and committed partners need to take care of each other,” said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Family Action said in its August lawsuit the domestic partnership law rights violates the state’s ban on same-sex marriage that was established in a 2006 referendum and upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2009.

According to the lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Family Action, the rights provided to gay couples by the domestic partnership law, such as the right to visit a partner in the hospital, as well as the steps that must be taken to register as domestic partners are too close to those required for marriage.

The lawsuit is Wisconsin Family Action’s second attempt to strike down the state’s domestic partnership statute, which Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law in 2009.

Belanger said if the law is struck down, more than 1,500 gay couples who have already registered for domestic partnership would be denied basic protections like hospital visitation, inheritance and the ability to take off work to care for a sick or injured partner.

Gay marriage and partnerships, normally a divisive issue even in non-election years, could be a potentially polarizing topic in the upcoming November election.

According to Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the 2006 referendum that added a ban on gay marriages and civil unions to Wisconsin’s state constitution created a large voter turnout for both Democrats and Republicans.

Heck said it may have more of an impact for the Democratic ticket, but that support from students, traditionally seen as more liberal voters, is not guaranteed.

“Even though the referendum passed in Wisconsin, there was much more opposition to it in student areas,” Heck said. “Equal protection for the lesbian and gay community resonates with most students, not all students, but most.”

In addition, Heck said both the lawsuit to strike down the statute and the recent action to strike down the lawsuit may help to overcome what many experts see as an enthusiasm gap between conservative and liberal voters.

With many Republicans already anxious to get to the polls, an effort to protect the domestic partnership law may draw in Democrats who were otherwise apathetic, Heck said.

“This latest development could cause people to vote who might otherwise not,” Heck said.

And in what may be a close election for many government offices, every vote counts, Heck said.