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Sunday, June 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Wisconsin Criminalizes|Some Same-Sex Marriages

MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - Finding a new way to punish homosexuals, Wisconsin enacted an unconstitutional law making it a crime "to go outside the state to contract a marriage prohibited under the laws of Wisconsin," four same-sex couples claim in Federal Court.

Wisconsin's so-called "Marriage Evasion Law" makes it a "criminal offense to go outside the state to contract a marriage prohibited under the laws of Wisconsin. A violation bears penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in prison," lead plaintiff Virginia Wolf says in the complaint against Governor Scott Walker and six other state officials.

Wisconsin voters amended the state constitution in 2006, by 59-41 percent vote.

The new Article XIII § 13 bars "marriage between two people of the same sex and further bars the recognition of any legal status substantially similar to marriage for same-sex couples," the complaint states.

The "marriage evasion law" is codified as Wis. Stat. § 765.30 (1).

"The plaintiffs in this action are three same-sex couples who seek the freedom to marry in Wisconsin to establish and affirm publicly the love they feel for each other and the mutual commitment they have made, and one same-sex couple who asks the State of Wisconsin to recognize the marriage that they have legally contracted in another jurisdiction," the 29-page lawsuit states.

"Wisconsin's denial of the freedom to marry has harmed these couples and their families in numerous ways. Carol Schumacher was unable to seek family and medical leave to care for Virginia Wolf when she was ill because they were not married. Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann struggle financially to pay for health insurance that would be more affordable if they were married. Judith Trampf was denied the right to make health care decisions for her unconscious partner because she could not prove her entitlement to do so. And every one of these couples suffers the stigma that comes from the state's denigration of their relationships as unworthy of recognition." The four couples claim that Wisconsin "maintains one of the most restrictive bans on marriage for same-sex couples in the nation."

Under Wis. Stat. § 765.30 (1), it is a "criminal offense to go outside the state to contract a marriage prohibited under the laws of Wisconsin. A violation bears penalties of up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in prison."

The couples say they are denied the freedoms of marriage not for any legitimate governmental purpose, but are because of their sexual orientation.

In a statement to Courthouse News, ACLU LGBT and AIDS Project Director John Knight said, "We are very excited to be moving forward in this case."

Knight said the ACLU is particularly concerned about possibility of criminal prosecution for, essentially, crossing state lines.

Defending the ban, defendant Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Holien said in a statement Monday: This constitutional amendment was approved by a large majority of Wisconsin residents. I believe the amendment is constitutional, and I will vigorously defend it."

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Family Action, which helped lead the effort to put the gay marriage ban in place, will likely attempt to get involved in the case, said the group's president, Julianne Appling. She disagreed that the couples have a constitutional right to get married and said allowing them to do so could open the door to state-sanctioned polygamy."

The couples, Virginia Wolf and Carol Schumacher, Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann, Charwomen Kemp and Marie Carlson and Judith Trampf and Katharina Henning, seek declaratory and injunctive relief for constitutional violations: that Article XIII § 13 and all marriage law provisions violate the U.S. Constitution, and a permanent injunction preventing enforcement of the "marriage evasion" law.

In addition to the governor and attorney general, defendants include Secretary of Revenue Richard G. Chandler, State Registrar Oskar Anderson, Eau Claire County District Attorney Gary King, Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph Czarnezki and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell.

They are represented by Laurence Dupuis with the ACLU of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee.

In 2009, the Wisconsin Legislature did pass a domestic partnership law. The law, which carries some, but not all, protections afforded to married couples, is being challenged in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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