[JURIST] A Wisconsin judge ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that the state’s domestic partnership registry does not infringe on the constitutional ban on gay marriage. Plaintiff Wisconsin Family Action [advocacy website] challenged the Domestic Partnership Registry [Wisc. Stats. 770 text, PDF] as unconstitutional pursuant to the Marriage Amendment of Wisconsin’s Constitution [text, PDF]. Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser granted summary judgment to defendant Fair Wisconsin [advocacy website], finding that the defendant had made a prima facie case. Moeser indicated that, based on plain language, constitutional debates, and earliest interpretations by the legislature, the domestic partnership [JURIST news archive] legal status is not “substantially similar” to marriage such that the Marriage Amendment preempts the same-sex domestic partnership designation:
[T]he sum total of domestic partners’ legal rights, duties, and liabilities is not identical or so essentially alike that it is virtually identical to the sum total of spouses’ legal rights, duties, and liabilities. The state does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that mirrors how the state recognizes marriage. Moreover, the state confers drastically different benefits, rights, and responsibilities to domestic partners solely by virtue of their domestic partnership status in comparison to the benefits, rights, and responsibilities given to spouses because of their marriage status.
Though the registry does not bestow equal rights to individuals in civil partnerships and marriages, it grants same-sex couples legal rights including hospital visitation, end of life decision, and property inheritance rights. Republican Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General JB Van Hollen (R) [official websites] have refused to defend the registry.
Several states have addressed same-sex domestic partnership and civil union laws in recent years. Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) [official profile] signed [JURIST report] a same-sex civil unions bill [SB 232 text, PDF] into law in February, legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state. That same month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) [official website] signed a bill [JURIST report] legalizing same-sex civil unions. Washington voters narrowly approved [JURIST report] Referendum 71 (R-71) [text], expanding the state’s domestic partnership law in November 2009. In December 2007, a federal judge blocked [JURIST report] an Oregon law [HB 2007 text] that would allow same-sex couples to enter into contractual domestic partnerships. In April 2007, the Washington State House of Representatives [official website] approved [JURIST report] a domestic partnership bill (SB 5336) [PDF text; bill summary] that grants same-sex couples hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights when there is no will, and the power to authorize medical procedures, such as organ donation and autopsies. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire [official website] signed the legislation [press release; JURIST report] into law the following week. While several states now allow same-sex civil unions, only six US jurisdictions allow same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], including Washington, DC, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts [JURIST reports].