A Republican lawmaker and a conservative Christian organization are calling on Wisconsin's attorney general to intervene against clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties who have made domestic partnership declarations available to opposite-sex couples.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell and Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki announced on Friday that they would immediately start issuing domestic partnership declarations to opposite-sex couples along with same-sex couples.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, McDonell said, clerks aren't allowed to discriminate based on gender when granting marriage licenses. The same logic applies to domestic partnership declarations, he said.
"A same-sex couple can choose between a domestic partnership and marriage, but an opposite-gender couple can’t," McDonell said. "That’s not equal protection under the law."
But while Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, has been critical of the state's domestic partnership registry for not being open to heterosexual couples, he argued McDonell and Czarnezki are acting "lawlessly."
Both Thiesfeldt and Wisconsin Family Action president Julaine Appling on Monday called for Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel to seek an injunction against McDonell and Czarnezki.
A spokesman for Schimel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thiesfeldt called for the registry to be repealed in June 2015, after the Supreme Court issued its ruling.
"The domestic partnership law is discriminatory. But it needs to be repealed, not expanded. It stands as a form of 'marriage-lite,' encouraging same-sex couples to avoid the commitment of marriage," Thiesfeldt said in a statement. "These clerks are now engaging in social engineering by lawlessly extending this 'marriage-lite' option to opposite-sex couples as well."
The state's domestic partnership registry was enacted by Democratic former Gov. Jim Doyle in 2009 as part of the state budget, three years after a ban on same-sex marriage was approved by voters.
While the state registry applies only to same-sex couples, Dane and Milwaukee counties have local ordinances that allow opposite-gender couples to register as domestic partners, as well.
"This registry was in retaliation against the marriage amendment," Appling said in a statement. "Proponents said it wasn’t ‘fair’ that same-sex couples couldn’t get benefits. The liberal progressives wrote and passed this law to try to erode marriage — and now liberals are trying to take it a step further with no legal authority again using the ‘fair’ argument. Clearly, making marriage utterly meaningless is their endgame. And clearly they will stop at nothing to get what they want — including ignoring the law."
Appling was a leader in the push for the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the domestic partnership registry.
The lawsuit failed and the registry was upheld, protecting some rights for same-sex couples regardless of the outcome of challenges to the constitutional marriage ban.
Appling called McDonell and Czarnezki "arrogant" and accused them of overstepping their authority.
But McDonell said he believes they are the only two clerks in Wisconsin following the law as it applies under the Supreme Court's ruling. He followed suit after Czarnezki was advised by Milwaukee County's legal counsel that opposite-sex couples should have access to domestic partnerships.
It would be easier for clerks if the Legislature would bring state law into compliance with the federal decision, he said.
"They need to get state law in line with federal court rulings," McDonell said. "That’s their issue, not my issue."