Josh Feyen and his husband eagerly were anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but Wednesday’s historic decision left Feyen “elated and disappointed all at the same point.”
The Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, granting federal benefits to married couples in 12 states that recognize same-sex marriage. Although Wisconsin isn’t one of them, the ruling prompted a rally of support Wednesday on Capitol Square.
The court also chose not to issue a broad ruling on a separate case involving same-sex marriage in California. The decision leaves intact Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman, and it’s unclear whether the decision would sway public attitudes here.
Feyen and Jay Edgar were married in a local private religious ceremony and they signed up for the state’s domestic partnership registry, but unless they get legally married in a state such as Iowa or Minnesota, they won’t qualify for the same federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples.
Even if they do get married in a different state and live in Wisconsin, they may have fewer rights than couples who live in states that recognize same-sex marriage, as some benefits depend on where a couple live.
Still, Feyen took the rulings as part of the continuing evolution of the public’s orientation on same-sex marriage.
“This could be that rallying cry, that momentous occasion that makes history and spurs the marginal states toward marriage equality,” Feyen said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage highlighted the California Prop 8 ruling, which effectively allows same-sex marriage in that state, but didn’t wipe out marriage amendments in Wisconsin and other states.
“We are very glad that the door has been left wide open for the public discourse and debate on this issue to continue and states are not forced by judicial fiat to redefine marriage,” said Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action.
Appling also said the ruling would not affect their case challenging the state’s domestic partnership registry.
Both Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said through spokespeople Wednesday the ruling has no direct impact on Wisconsin or on Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment, which states: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, concurred with that assessment in a press release saying because he lives in Wisconsin, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, his marriage will not be affected by the court’s ruling.
“While my husband, Phil, and I continue to wait to have our marriage recognized by both Wisconsin and Washington, I am now more confident than ever that full marriage equality is a question not of if, but when,” Pocan said.
Advocates cheered the decision to strike down DOMA but acknowledged it was unclear if couples who wed in states where same-sex marriage is legal could get federal benefits in Wisconsin.
About 250 people circled the Capitol just before 6 p.m. Wednesday to celebrate the decision. They waved rainbow banners, chanted “gay, straight, black, white, marriage equality is a civil right” and sang lines from “Chapel of Love.” Many in the crowd gathering for Concerts on the Square stood and applauded.
Among those marching, kissing and crying were Kristin Martin and Lori Miller, who were engaged on New Year’s Eve. Though they want to get married in Wisconsin, the ruling makes it more likely they’ll get married in Iowa, where their marriage would be recognized by the federal government.
Also celebrating was Anna Frackman, 23, whose two mothers have been together more than 30 years but have never been married. She predicts the ruling will lead to more states changing their position on same-sex marriage in the near future.
“As many things as are going to change after this ruling, the one thing that won’t is our families,” Frackman said. “The amount we love each other has always been the same.”
Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, said the group would continue its effort to overturn the state’s marriage amendment, which would require two consecutive Legislatures passing a constitutional amendment and a majority of voters approving it in an election. That same process was used to pass the marriage amendment in 2006.
The implications of the ruling are convoluted because of the wide range of federal benefits afforded to married couples, from filing joint tax returns to expediting the naturalization process.
The tax return issue is complicated because Wisconsin uses federal tax return information as part of the state return, said Pete Oettinger, a CPA with Wegner CPAs in Madison. Working married couples can qualify for up to a $480 tax credit.
The Department of Revenue wasn’t certain Wednesday if the state would have to have a separate form to allow legally married same-sex couples to file jointly on their federal returns, but separately on state returns, spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.
The court did not strike down the part of DOMA that says states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned in other states, said Andrew Coan, a UW Law School associate professor and expert on constitutional law. But he noted President Barack Obama and the federal agencies will have to determine whether benefits such as social security or estate tax exemptions will extend to all legally married couples.
“If they decide not to recognize those couples, there would likely be further litigation,” Coan said.