Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds domestic partner registry

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's domestic partner registry does not violate the existing gay marriage ban. But that could become a moot point if the ban itself goes by the wayside.

Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal/AP
Todd Kinsman, left, and Ravi Manghnani hug after getting married in Madison, Wis., a day after the state's ban on gay marriage was struck down in June. Weddings for same-sex couples in Wisconsin were stopped a week later, however.

Wisconsin same-sex domestic partners got a boost from a state Supreme Court ruling Thursday, though it’s unclear how much difference the decision will make in the long run.

The court ruled unanimously that a domestic partner registry instituted in 2009 does not violate the state's ban on gay marriage. That ban on marriage, the justices declared, does not allow the state to deprive individuals of rights traditionally granted to married couples.

Same-sex couples who enroll in the registry are granted hospital visitation privileges, inheritance provisions, and the right to include a partner in heath-care policies. The registry was created under former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, three years after voters approved the marriage ban. More than 2,000 couples have since added their names to the registry, according to Fair Wisconsin, a gay rights organization based in Madison. That group defended the registry in court after the current governor, Scott Walker, and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, both Republicans, declined to do so.

The registry came under fire in 2010, when Julaine Appling, head of Wisconsin Family Action, filed a lawsuit charging that the registry resembled marriage and therefore violated the 2006 ban. Wisconsin Family Action, based in Madison, opposes gay marriage.

Writing for the court in Thursday's ruling, Justice N. Patrick Crooks said there is a clear legal difference between a domestic partnership and a marriage.

“Marriage is unique in that it is an enforceable contract to which the state is a party,” Justice Crooks wrote.

The ban itself may not endure much longer. Last month, US District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the ban unconstitutional.

“If the state is going to deprive an entire class of citizens of a right as fundamental as marriage, then it must do more than say ‘this is the way it has always been’ or ‘we’re not ready yet,’ ” Judge Crabb wrote in an 88-page opinion, the Monitor’s Warren Richey reported.

At the time, Crabb declined to grant a stay pending an appeal, as requested by Governor Walker and Mr. Van Hollen. She also did not issue an injunction instructing clerks how to respond to the ruling. Some took the decision to be permission to start granting marriage licenses, while others did not. More than 550 same-sex couples seized the opportunity to marry before Crabb revisited the issue a week later and granted a stay of her previous ruling.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in the state’s appeal on Aug. 26. If the court upholds Crabb’s ruling, the decision Thursday on the registry could become a moot point.

 This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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