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Lambda Legal Joins Fair Wisconsin in Fight to Save Legal Protections for Same-Sex Couples and Their Families

"15,000 Wisconsin Same-Sex Couples Need Domestic Partnership Law for Times of Illness and Crisis"

(Madison, Wisconsin) — According to recently filed court papers, Lambda Legal is seeking to intervene on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and its members in a lawsuit brought by an antigay group attempting to strip away newly enacted domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples and their families.

"There are almost 15,000 same-sex couples and their families living in Wisconsin who need the basic protections provided by domestic partnerships. The law is far from marriage equality, but it helps couples in times of illness and crisis," said Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office based in Chicago. "We plan to vigorously defend the important legal protections that the legislature validly enacted to protect Wisconsin citizens."

"To suggest that these few protections granted to same-sex couples and their families resemble the much revered status of marriage is preposterous. The domestic partnership law and the constitutional amendment barring same-sex couples from marriage are not in conflict with each other," added Clark.

Fair Wisconsin, along with national and regional allies, recently helped enact these important domestic partnership protections for same-sex couples, the first piece of pro-fairness legislation in 27 years. Fair Wisconsin, the main opponents to the 2006 amendment banning marriage equality and civil unions, is doing everything it can to defend the new law.

"Domestic partnerships are an important step toward ensuring that someone in a caring, committed relationship is able to care for his or her partner," said Katie Belanger, Executive Director of Fair Wisconsin. "No one should ever have to worry about being blocked at their partner’s hospital room door, or have to make the heartbreaking decision to quit their job in order to care for a seriously ill partner. This isn’t about being gay or straight—it's about being decent."

The state passed a constitutional amendment in November 2006 that prohibits marriage for same-sex couples in Wisconsin and bars recognition of any legal status that is “substantially similar” to marriage. Earlier this year, on June 29, 2009, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed domestic partnerships into law. Domestic partnerships grant limited but important legal protections to same-sex couples, including hospital visitation and the ability to take a family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner.

Wisconsin Family Action, an antigay group, filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that the domestic partnership law is a violation of the antigay constitutional amendment barring marriage equality. After Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen announced that his office would not defend the state against the claim, Governor Doyle appointed special counsel to represent the state.

Wisconsin was the first state in the union to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace in 1982, but many members of the gay community wonder if this attack on the domestic partnership registry will mean a step back for fairness in their state. David Kopitze and Paul Klawiter, who have been together for nearly 40 years, are worried about what losing these basic protections might mean for their family.
Said Kopitze, "Since we can’t get married in Wisconsin, the domestic partnership registry provides us with a few fundamental protections that we need to take care of each other that married couples in Wisconsin can assume they will always have. Paul and I just want to make sure that we can visit each other in the hospital and take care of each other as we grow older."

ACLU also filed court papers today to intervene in the Appling v. Doyle case on behalf of five same-sex couples. ACLU, like Lambda Legal, says domestic partnerships and marriages are not "substantially similar."