Top Wisconsin Court to Hear Domestic Partner Challenge

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court said it will decide if the state’s same-sex domestic partnership law violates a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The state’s high court also said yesterday it will hear Governor Scott Walker’s appeal of a 2012 trial court ruling that struck down parts of his legislation curbing the union-organizing rights of some public employees.

The marriage amendment, approved by voters in 2006, bars same-sex couples from entering into a legal status “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage.”

An intermediate appellate court last year found the domestic partnership law didn’t confer “substantially similar” rights and upheld a trial court ruling the measure is constitutional.

“It would ‘take pages’ to list the rights and obligations that go with marriages but not domestic partnerships,” the Wisconsin Court of Appeals said in its Dec. 20 decision, citing the lower court’s rationale.

“It is not necessary to list that many here to demonstrate that, regardless of the precise meaning of the term ‘substantially similar,’ the rights and obligations of marriage are not substantially similar to the rights and obligations of domestic partnerships,” Appeals Court Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

Domestic Partnership

The domestic partnership legislation was signed into law by former Governor James E. Doyle, a Democrat. His Republican successor, Walker, and Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen have declined to defend the measure.

Fair Wisconsin, a gay rights advocacy group, intervened in the case to preserve the domestic partnership law.

Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for Van Hollen, said the attorney general wouldn’t comment on the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case.

Megin McDonell, a spokeswoman for Madison, Wisconsin-based Fair Wisconsin, didn’t immediately reply to voice-mail and e-mail requests for comment.

The union rights measure, known as Act 10, required annual recertification votes for union representation and made voluntary the payment of union dues. Some groups of public safety officers were exempted from its provisions.

Free Speech

Trial court Judge Juan Colas in Madison ruled last year that parts of Walker’s 2011 legislation unduly burdened affected workers’ constitutional rights to free speech and free association.

A three-judge panel of Wisconsin’s intermediate-level Court of Appeals in April asked the state’s highest court to decide the issue after the Walker administration appealed the Colas decision.

“It’s hard to imagine a dispute with greater statewide effect or greater need for a final resolution by the Supreme Court,” the appellate judges said in their 24-page request.

A Chicago-based federal appeals court in January upheld Act 10 in its entirety in a separately filed case.

The domestic partnership case is Appling v. Doyle, 2011AP572, Wisconsin Supreme Court (Madison). The lower court case is Appling v. Doyle, 2010-cv-004434, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court (Madison).

The union rights case is Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker, 2012-ap-02067, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District IV (Madison). The trial-court case is Madison Teachers Inc. v. Walker, 11-cv-03774, Dane County, Wisconsin, Circuit Court, Branch 10 (Madison).

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