A social conservative group filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Wisconsin's domestic partner registry, arguing it is a violation of the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit filed in Dane County Circuit Court by members of Wisconsin Family Action contends the registry creates a legal status substantially similar to that of marriage.
Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, proposed the registry as a means of granting same-sex couples more legal rights, such as the right to visit each other in hospitals, make end-of-life decisions and inherit each other's property. The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved the registry and it went into effect in August 2009. By the end of the year 1,329 couples had signed up.
The same-sex marriage ban, actively pushed by the same group bringing the lawsuit against the registry, was added to the constitution by voters in 2006.
"A reasonable person observing this registry would easily conclude that it is intended to mirror marriage," said Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, in a statement. "It borrows the requirements and eligibility standards for marriage, even to the point of requiring that the price of the registry certificate be the same as for a marriage license."
The registry's benefits do not come close to the rights that come with marriage, said Katie Belanger, executive director Fair Wisconsin, the state's largest gay rights group that lobbied lawmakers to approve the registry.
She said the registry extends 43 benefits compared with 200 for married couples under state law.
"These are the most basic, critical things that couples need to have to take care of one another," Belanger said.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen previously refused to defend the registry when the same group attempted to get the state Supreme Court to take up the issue before it went through the lower courts. Madison attorney Lester Pines defended the registry in that case and will continue to represent the state in the new lawsuit.
"This is not a surprise," Pines said. "We expect to vigorously defend the domestic partner registry's constitutionality and we expect to prevail in defending it."
The Supreme Court refused to take up that case, leading the group to refile it in circuit court.
In June, the state Supreme Court did uphold the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions but the ruling did not affect the registry.