Almost two years ago, Wisconsin instituted a domestic partner registry, which was immediately challenged as a violation of the state's super-DOMA. I wrote at the time that the state would have an easier time defending the registry if it had made the criteria more inclusive and less mirroring of marriage.
Well, yesterday a state trial court upheld the constitutionality of the registry in a 53 page opinion. The court gave significant weight to statements made by proponents of the state's Defense of Marriage Amendment that it would not affect domestic partner benefits. The opinion in fact quotes a statement by a plaintiff in the lawsuit during the campaign for the DOMA. Lead plaintiff Julaine Appling was quoted in a newspaper article that informed voters that the Marriage Amendment would not threaten domestic partner benefits. "It's just inflammatory rhetoric," Appling said. Appling, who is president of Wisconsin Family Action, has announced that the group will appeal the trial court's ruling.
Three years ago, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that domestic partner benefits for public employees violated that state's DOMA in spite of the fact that DOMA proponents said before the vote that such benefits would not be disturbed.
Kudos to the Lambda Legal lawyers who handled the case and will have to continue to defend the DP registry through the appeals process. For what it's worth, I still believe a more inclusive registry would be both better policy and constitutionally unassailable.