Group seeks to defend domestic partner law

2009-09-22T00:15:00Z Group seeks to defend domestic partner lawThe Associated Press The Associated Press
September 22, 2009 12:15 am  • 

MADISON - A gay rights group will ask the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday to reject a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the state's new domestic partnership law.

Fair Wisconsin said it will seek to intervene in a lawsuit that asks the court to strike down the law giving same-sex couples some spousal benefits. The move is the latest development in a case that has already faced one unexpected delay since its filing July 23.

Nine-hundred seventy couples have been added to the registry since the law went into effect in August, Department of Health Services spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said. Registering gives them limited legal protections such as the right to visit each other in the hospital, take medical leave to care for an ill partner and inherit assets when a partner dies.

"We are filing to intervene so that we can protect the interests of our members who have a really important need for these protections," said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin. "We're confident the court will make a fair and just decision, and we want to make sure we can assist in that process."

Members of Wisconsin Family Action, a social conservative group, claim in the lawsuit the registry violates the constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions approved by voters in 2006.

They want the law declared unconstitutional and are asking the Supreme Court to take the case directly, bypassing trial and appeals courts. The high court is considering whether to do so and has ordered the state to respond to the lawsuit by Tuesday.

Fair Wisconsin led the opposition to the 2006 amendment, and then lobbied lawmakers to pass the domestic partnership law as part of the state budget this summer. It will be represented in the case by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York-based gay rights group.

Madison attorney Lester Pines, who is representing the state, said he will also ask the court not to take the case on Tuesday. He had no comment on Fair Wisconsin's planned attempt to intervene, other than to say he had not coordinated with the group his firm has represented in the past.

Jim Campbell, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the plaintiffs, said he is not surprised by the attempt to intervene. He said it was too early to know whether the plaintiffs will oppose it.

"Obviously, it could delay the speedy progression of the case if there's a dispute over their right to intervene, or they raise additional issues the current parties aren't," he said. "It does pose that risk. ... We are eager for the court to weigh in."

Gov. Jim Doyle hired Pines last month to defend the law after Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to do so. Van Hollen said he believed the law was unconstitutional because the new relationships are too similar to traditional marriage.

After Pines was hired, he received a three-week extension from the court so he could have more time to respond.

Lambda Legal Attorney Christopher Clark said he will tell justices in court filings Tuesday the case has too many facts in dispute to be decided now and a trial court should hear it first.

He said Fair Wisconsin wants to show how supporters of the amendment told voters in 2006 it would not prohibit governments from offering domestic partner benefits. Such fact-finding is typically done in a trial court.

Clark said he rejected the argument the case should be expedited to the high court so same-sex couples can know sooner whether their relationships are valid. He said there was no emergency for the court to act now.

"Same-sex couples are going to be better served by having a deliberate presentation of the evidence that lays out their case as opposed to rushing to judgment," he said. "We believe the history and evidence is squarely on our side."

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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