Recognition of same-sex unions in Wisconsin
|Legal recognition of
Domestic partnerships that afford limited rights to same-sex couples have been recognized in Wisconsin since August 3, 2009. Same-sex marriage and "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals" is banned by a constitutional amendment adopted by popular vote in 2006. A statute that antedated that constitutional amendment provides that residents who contract a marriage in another jurisdiction that would be prohibited within Wisconsin can be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 9 months.
The domestic partnership plan was passed as part of the biennial state budget bill that was approved by both houses of the legislature and signed by Governor Jim Doyle on June 29, 2009. Domestic partnerships in Wisconsin provide select rights, such as the ability to inherit a partner's estate in the absence of a will, hospital visitation, and the ability to access family medical leave to care for a sick partner. Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry does not provide two-parent adoptions by persons of the same sex, and confers far fewer rights, duties and protections than are associated with marriage.
Wisconsin was the first state in the Midwest to enact any form of recognition for same-sex unions. Of the several states that have bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin was the first and only one to enact limited domestic partnerships.
Same-sex marriage ban
Legislation banning same-sex marriage was introduced in the Wisconsin State Assembly on August 17, 2003. and passed by a vote of 68–29 on October 23. The Wisconsin State Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 22–10 on November 5. Governor Jim Doyle vetoed it on November 10, 2003. The Assembly failed to override the Governor's veto by one vote, 63–33, on November 12.
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.
The Senate approved the same language by a 20–13 vote on March 12, completing the first of two legislative approvals required to place the amendment on the ballot. The Senate approved the proposed amendment again on December 6, 2005, voting 19–14 along party lines. The Assembly did the same on February 28, 2006, by a vote of 62-31. The question appeared as a referendum on the statewide ballot on November 7, 2006, and voters passed the amendment by a margin of 59.4% to 40.6%.
McConkey v. Van Hollen
William McConkey, a political science instructor filed a lawsuit, McConkey v. Van Hollen, on April 9, 2009, in Wisconsin Supreme Court charging that Wisconsin Referendum 1 (2006), which banned both same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state, violated the state's constitution because it proposed more than one question in a single ballot proposal, which is illegal under Wisconsin law. On May 14, the Court agreed to hear the case, specifying two questions, whether McConkey, as an individual voter, has standing to sue and whether the ballot initiative presented two questions. Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen challenged McConkey's standing.  The Court heard oral arguments on November 3.
On June 30, 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 7–0 in McConkey that the ballot measure for Wisconsin's marriage amendment was proper.
On February 3, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of Virginia Wolf and Carol Schumacher, a lesbian couple married in Minnesota. It challenges the state constitution's ban on same-sex marriage as well as Wisconsin's "marriage evasion law", which punishes those who leave the state in order to formalize a marriage that would not be recognized in Wisconsin. That law establishes penalties of up to nine months in jail and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Domestic partner registry
Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle proposed legislation for same-sex partnerships in Wisconsin on February 17, 2009. On June 13, the Assembly passed, by vote of 50–48, a state budget that incorporated domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. The Senate passed the budget on June 17 by vote of 17–16. Doyle signed the budget legislation on June 29. The Domestic Partnership law took effect on August 3.
A domestic partnership can be registered at the county level, with couples having to sign a legal declaration of their commitment. To be eligible for a domestic partnership, two individuals must both be at least 18 years old, share a common residence, not be nearer of kin than second cousins, and neither party can be married or in another domestic partnership with anyone else.
Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry provides 43 rights and protections to same-sex couples, in contrast to more than 200 state-level rights and over 1,138 federal-level protections afforded to heterosexual couples. These rights include:
- Administration and transfer of deceased partner's estate
- Ability to inherit partner's estate in the absence of a will
- Priority with respect to certain personal property
- Can be awarded the couple’s home and vehicles that are titled in the name of the deceased partner, as well as personal and household items of the deceased partner, by a probate court
- Exempting certain property transferred to the surviving partner from creditors' claims
- Family support during administration of a deceased individual's estate
- Transfer of real estate titles without paying fee
- Transfer of motor vehicle titles
- Other rights
- Presumption of joint tenancy in real estate
- Rights related to power of attorney for property and finances
- Family leave for sick or dying partner
- Hospital visitation
- Ability to admit incapacitated partner to nursing facility
- Ability to access deceased or incapacitated partner's medical records
- Ability to file suit for wrongful death
- Right to receive death benefits if the deceased partner was killed in a workplace accident
- Crime victim compensation
- Immunity from testifying against partner
- Ability to consent to autopsy for deceased partner
- Ability to make anatomical donation in the event of partner's death
On July 23, 2009, before the Domestic Partnership Law took effect, three members of Wisconsin Family Action (WFA) filed a petition for an original action in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Appling v. Doyle, seeking a declaration that the domestic partner registry is unconstitutional under the state's Marriage Protection Amendment. WFA had been the primary advocate for that constitutional amendment. WFA said that the state's domestic partner registry creates a "legal status" substantially similar to marriage, while voters intended to preserve a "conjugal model" of marriage. WFA agreed that Wisconsin's domestic partner registry provides far fewer rights, duties, and protections than marriage, but contended that by granting "legal status" to same-sex couples the registry legislation violated the "intention of the voters".
When the Court declined to take the case, WFA filed its suit in Dane County District Court in 2010. The state hired outside counsel the defend the registry law, but on May 13, 2011, Governor Scott Walker asked to withdraw the state's defense of the domestic partnership registry.
On June 20, 2011, Dane County Judge Dan Moeser ruled that the domestic partnership registry does not violate the state constitution, finding that the state "does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage". On December 20, 2012, a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Wisconsin's domestic partner registry, affirming Moeser's ruling.
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A February 2013 Public Policy Polling survey also found that 71% of respondents supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 39% supporting same-sex marriage, 32% supporting civil unions, 27% opposing all legal recognition, and 2% not sure.
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-  The Proposed Legistation
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-  Vetoed
-  Override Attempt
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