John M. Becker

BREAKING: ACLU Sues to Overturn WI Marriage Ban

Filed By John M. Becker | February 03, 2014 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: ACLU, gay marriage, lawsuit, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Wisconsin

wisconsin_satellite.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in Madison, Wisconsin today on behalf of four same-sex couples seeking to overturn the state's constitutional marriage discrimination amendment.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the complaint argues that the ban, which 59% of the state's voters approved in 2006, violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law and requests that enforcement of it be halted immediately. "Lesbians and gay men in Wisconsin are denied the freedom afforded to different-sex couples in this state to have their loving, committed relationships recognized through marriage," it reads.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to "fulfill its solemn duty of ensuring to all Americans the fundamental freedoms that the Constitution of the United States guarantees. Wisconsin's marriage ban denies those freedoms."

The action is being brought on behalf of three couples -- one from Madison, two from Milwaukee -- who want the state to legally recognize their relationships by allowing them to marry. The fourth plaintiff couple, from Eau Claire, was married in Minnesota in December and is asking Wisconsin to recognize that union.

The ACLU complaint also rightly notes that Wisconsin's marriage discrimination amendment is one of the most restrictive in the nation because it not only bans same-sex marriage, but any other form of relationship recognition "substantially similar" to marriage, including civil unions. However, in 2009 Wisconsin passed a domestic partnership registry providing a very limited slate of rights to same-sex couples. The state's Supreme Court is currently deciding the registry's constitutionality.

Wisconsin citizens are technically not allowed to travel out of state to enter into marriages unrecognized by their home state: it's a criminal offense under state law, punishable by nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Yes, you're reading that right: when my husband Michael and I left Wisconsin in 2006 to be legally married (see below), the simple act of pledging our lives to one another literally made us criminals in the eyes of the state. The law isn't currently being enforced, but the head of the state's foremost anti-equality group has publicly called on the state to do so. Couples like U.S. Representative Mark Pocan and his husband Phil still could technically face criminal charges for marrying each other.

Lambda Legal says that Wisconsin's "marriage evasion" law is the strictest in the nation.

As a Cheesehead who's been intensely critical of statewide leaders' reluctance to challenge Wisconsin's marriage ban in court, I'm absolutely ecstatic about today's news -- it's about damn time. Kudos to the ACLU and the four brave plaintiff couples for stepping up on behalf of all LGBT Wisconsinites.

You all are my heroes today. As the state's motto says, forward!

A copy of their complaint and links to the ACLU profiles of the plaintiff couples are after the jump.

Meet the Couples

Click on the name of each couple to visit the ACLU's profile page.

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf, Eau Claire
. Carol, 60, and Virginia, 74, both grew up in Kansas and moved to Wisconsin together in 1977. Carol worked as an elections administrator and city clerk, and is now retired. Virginia is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and also a professor emeritus of English at The University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she worked 24 years. They live in Eau Claire with their border collie/Australian shepherd mix, Z.


Charvonne Kemp and Marie Carlson. Milwaukee. Charvonne, 43, and Marie, 48, have been partners more than seven years and raised two sons together. Charvonne is an accountant and Marie is a raw material handler for a manufacturing company. They both very much want to get married, and they want to do it in the state they call home.

Judith (Judi) Trampf and Katharina (Katy) Heyning. Madison. Judi, 53, and Katy, 51, met in college at the Girl Scout National Center in Wyoming. They were part of a group of women from the Midwest who would get together outside of summer camp.

Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann. Milwaukee. Roy, 56, and Garth, 58, have been together 37 years. They met through mutual friends when they were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and got together on Election Day in November 1976.

Read the Complaint

Via Equality Case Files:

Wolf v Walker Complaint by Equality Case Files



Spouses or Scofflaws?

Finally, here's a photo of Michael and me on our wedding day, March 22, 2006. This simple act of committing our lives to each other literally made us criminals in the state of Wisconsin.

Here's hoping today's lawsuit hastens the end of marriage discrimination and criminalization in the Badger State.

becker_john_mrrg_long_hug.jpg

UPDATE: Fair Wisconsin, the statewide LGBT equality group, responded to today's news with a statement from Executive Director Katie Belanger:

"At Fair Wisconsin, our top priorities have been advancing marriage equality and broader nondiscrimination protections for all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. During this time, we have been the only line of defense for the limited legal protections that are critical for the thousands of same-sex couples who have registered with the Wisconsin Domestic Partnership Registry. Represented by Lambda Legal, we are the sole defending party in the Domestic Partnership Registry lawsuit.

We certainly support the relief requested in the ACLU's case, as well as all efforts to make marriage equality a reality. We look forward to monitoring the Wisconsin case and the more than 40 cases across the country as they continue to move forward.

Based on our past work to defend victories, and our grassroots efforts in local communities across the state, we know that a lawsuit alone cannot accomplish the transformative change we seek. There must be an effective statewide grassroots movement that prevents backlash and ensures the public is ready for our victory.

To that end, we remain committed to continuing our grassroots movement building that is successfully moving the people of our state forward on LGBT equality and creating an environment for positive court decisions in the years ahead."


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