The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional a 2009 law creating a domestic partner registry that provides limited benefits to same-sex couples.
Thursday's ruling keeps the registry active but is likely to be overshadowed by a pending gay marriage case. A federal judge declared Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional last month, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals plans to hear arguments in the state's appeal on Aug. 26.
Justices considered whether that domestic partnership registry violates a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 prohibiting "substantially similar" institutions to marriage. Two lower courts said it does not. The justices upheld the constitutionality of the registry with a unanimous decision.
Justice Patrick Crooks wrote, “We see no evidence that voters who approved the Amendment saw it as permitting those rights to be granted only in the kind of scheme Plaintiffs now suggest--that is, in cohabiting domestic relationships that bear no resemblance at all to marriage, with same-sex couples only as incidental beneficiaries.”
This case spans back to August 2009, when same-sex partners in Wisconsin could join a registry allowing them limited legal benefits as domestic partners. Months later, the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action filed suit saying that violated the amendment prohibiting "substantially similar" institutions to marriage.
Fair Wisconsin, a same-sex marriage advocacy group, stepped in to defend the law on behalf of five state couples when Gov. Scott Walker abandoned the registry defense in 2011.
Both Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to defend the law, which they also said violated the state constitution.
Van Hollen said Thursday that he stands by his decision. He said that despite the court's unanimous decision, he still believes the registry is unconstitutional.