Domestic Partners Seek To Intervene In Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin's Domestic Partner Law

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Domestic Partners Seek To Intervene In Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin's Domestic Partner Law

MADISON, Wisconsin - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before the
Wisconsin Supreme Court today on behalf of five same-sex couples asking
that the couples be allowed to participate in a lawsuit that will
decide whether the state’s newly enacted domestic partner law violates
Wisconsin’s anti-gay marriage amendment. Anti-gay activists have asked
the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as
inconsistent with the marriage amendment. The couples also ask the
Court to reject the petition and send the case to a trial court so that
evidence can be presented to show that the domestic partner law does
not violate the anti-gay marriage amendment that passed in 2006.

"While the domestic partner law falls far short of marriage, we were
grateful when it passed that we would no longer have to worry about
being able to visit each other in the hospital," said Jayne Dunnum who,
along with her partner of 17 years, Robin Timm, registered to become
domestic partners when the law went into effect this summer. "But with
this lawsuit those fears are back, and we’d like the opportunity to
explain to the courts how this affects us."

According to the motion filed by the ACLU, the five same-sex couples
meet all the legal requirements for becoming a party to the litigation
and would suffer harm if the court overturns the domestic partner law.

"We’re hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will recognize that
lesbian and gay couples have the most at stake in this lawsuit and
deserve their day in court," said Larry DuPuis, Legal Director of the
ACLU of Wisconsin. "Only same-sex couples can describe what it’s like
to fear not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or being left
with nothing when a partner dies without a will. And only same-sex
couples can explain what it means to be shut out of marriage and have
to accept a poorly understood second-class status as domestic partners
with 43 legal protections versus more than 200 that come with
marriage."

The anti-gay activists who are seeking to take away the legal
protections for registered domestic partners have claimed that they
need a speedy resolution and are entitled to go directly to the
Wisconsin Supreme Court because the modest legal protections granted to
same-sex couples through the law somehow affect the marriages of
straight couples. Rather incredulously, they also claim that it would
be in the best interest of lesbian and gay couples to have a speedy
resolution even though they are asking the court to strip domestic
partners of all legal protections.

According to the ACLU, there are important factual issues in the
case, such as the many ways in which domestic partnership differs from
marriage, that call for the kind of testimony that same-sex couples can
provide to the Court. To consider this important evidence, the Court
should refuse to accept this case directly but instead allow a circuit
court to develop the factual record.

During the political campaign for the anti-gay marriage amendment
that is the basis for this lawsuit, these same anti-gay activists told
the voters that domestic partner benefits would not be affected by the
amendment and that the state would be allowed to pass a law giving
same-sex couples some legal protections.

"The anti-gay activists misled the voters into passing the amendment
by saying that it would not affect the rights of domestic partners.
Then they tried to prevent the legislature from providing modest legal
protections for same-sex couples. And soon after the bill went into
effect, they brought a lawsuit to take those protections away, based on
the amendment that they said would not affect such rights" said John
Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. "It’s
incredible the lengths they will go to deny committed couples basic
protections for their families."

The same-sex couples asking to be allowed into the lawsuit include:

Jayne Dunnum and Robin Timm from Plattsville, WI, have been
together for 17 years. After Timm was injured on their farm and had to
be rushed to the emergency room, they worry about being able to visit
each other in the hospital and are hoping the domestic partner law will
put an end to these worries.

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf from Eau Claire, WI, have
been together for 34 years. As they enter their senior years, the
domestic partner law would ease their worries about being shut out of
conversations about each other’s medical care and other end-of-life
decisions and guarantee that they are not barred from sharing a room if
they end up in a nursing home.

Wendy and Mary Woodruff from Milwaukee, WI, have been
together for 12 years. As a minister for the Metropolitan Community
Church, Rev. Wendy Woodruff has had to console a congregant who lost
everything, including her home and furniture, when her partner was
killed and the partner’s relatives claimed their entire estate. They
fear the same thing would happen to them without the inheritance
protections of the domestic partner law.

Judith Trampf and Katy Heyning from Madison, WI, celebrated
their 20th Anniversary this summer. A few years back, Heyning had a
seizure that left her unable to drive for six months. Unable to take
family leave, Trampf had to use her vacation time to drive Katy to
doctor’s appointments and to and from work. Under the domestic partner
law, the couple would finally gain access to family leave protection.

Diane Schermann and Missy Collins from Eau Claire, WI, have
known each other for 10 years and have been a couple for five. The
couple is raising seven children, including Diane’s two children from a
previous marriage, a new baby that Missy gave birth to through in vitro
fertilization and four foster children, two of which are relatives of
Collins. Like many couples their age, the couple has put off making
wills because of the expense. The domestic partner law would guarantee
that at least half of their joint property automatically passes to each
other.

Lambda Legal also filed papers today to intervene in the Appling v. Doyle
case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin, the statewide equality organization,
and its members. Lambda Legal, like the ACLU, says domestic
partnerships and marriages are not "substantially similar."

Linda Hansen, David Froiland, Jason Plowman, Daniel Manna and David
Goroff of Foley & Lardner, LLP are assisting ACLU attorneys DuPuis
and Knight in representing the couples.

Additional information about the ACLU’s motion, including bios and
photographs of the couples and the legal documents filed today, is
available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt/relationships/41068res20090922.html.

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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