Katie Belanger On Domestic Partner Registry Case

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Katie Belanger On Domestic Partner Registry Case

Premiere Date: 
October 25, 2013

The president of Fair Wisconsin, the defendant, says the 2009 law is constitutional.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

I spoke with Julaine Appling earlier. Fair Wisconsin, Wisconsin's largest gay rights group, was defended before the state supreme court by lawyers from Lambda Legal. Katie Belanger is president and CEO of Fair Wisconsin. Thanks for being here.

Katie Belanger:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

I wanted to ask first, what are the differences in your mind between the domestic partnership law in Wisconsin and the legal rights of marriage?

Katie Belanger:

There's a huge difference. Under state law, there are over 200 ways in which married couples are recognized and provided protections and obligations. The registry provides about 43 of those same protections. And then under federal law you have over 1,000 ways that married couples are recognized, none of which apply to anyone in Wisconsin under the registry.

Frederica Freyberg:

What are some examples of a legal recognition under marriage that don't confer to the domestic partnership law in Wisconsin?

Katie Belanger:

A big one is taxes. There are no provisions for domestic partners to be able to file taxes jointly. There are not provisions that have anything to do with family besides the two individuals in the couple. And those are I think two of the biggest things. There's also no divorce provision.   How you exit a marriage and how you exit a domestic partnership are completely different.

Frederica Freyberg:

So clearly you do not believe that these two things are-- Or that the domestic partnership law is substantially similar.

Katie Belanger:

No. When you look at the facts, it is not substantially similar. And when you look at how people understand and relate to the different legal statuses, it is vastly different. People know what a marriage is. They know and respect it, and it's something that's very, you know, universally understood in our society. A domestic partnership is in no way something that can be confused with marriage.

Frederica Freyberg:

What did you make of questions of the court around eliminating just some of the elements of the domestic partnership law, as opposed to either upholding it in its entirety or ruling it unconstitutional?

Katie Belanger:

I actually thought it was a very interesting set of questions. You know, I think it's very common for a court to explore different options for different constructs, and to do some sort of experimentation with different concepts there. I think that the point of that particular line of questioning around, if we change different requirements for eligibility for the registry, was really an eye-opening experience for people because it showed that our opposition is not about providing any sort of legal status for same-sex couples. This isn't about, well, if you swap out this requirement for that requirement, then suddenly it's constitutional. They don't support any legal status for same-sex domestic partners.

Frederica Freyberg:

What kind of energy did the US supreme court ruling on the defense of marriage act this summer give to you and your advocates?

Katie Belanger:

Well, I think the victories we've had, both at the supreme court in our neighboring states like Minnesota, have done nothing but increase the momentum, increase the support and the awareness of the importance of marriage equality. But I think it's also really highlighted how far behind Wisconsin is. The fact that we are talking about a very limited set of legal protections in Wisconsin is very different from the conversation everywhere else.

Frederica Freyberg:

Because I understand that recent polls suggest that at least 50% of people in the US now approve of same-sex couples being able to marry legally. In the face of that and kind of the changing tide, but in the face of Wisconsin's 2006 constitutional amendment banning that, do you ever see that changing here?

Katie Belanger:

Absolutely. I think we've come a very long way in the last seven years. The environment around marriage equality, and people's understanding that marriage is about love and family and commitment, have just grown leaps and bounds. Our state is not in the same place we were seven years ago. And that's actually something that Justice Gableman pointed out in his comments during the supreme court oral arguments this week.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Katie Belanger, Fair Wisconsin, thanks very much.

Katie Belanger:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

In another case headed next month to the state supreme court. A Dane County judge this week found two members of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission in contempt for disregarding his earlier ruling, a ruling that declared unconstitutional annual union recertification elections under Act 10. The state, however, says it is confident Act 10 will be upheld by the high court. 


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