Same-Sex Couples Sue Wisconsin Governor

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MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Four same-sex couples have had their marital rights stripped by Wisconsin’s highest officials, who refuse to recognize their marriages as legal, the couples claim in Federal Court.
     Kiersten and Angela Bloechl-Karlsen et al. sued Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and 25 other state officials on Wednesday for withholding parental, financial and legal benefits after the plaintiffs were legally married in Wisconsin.
     “Plaintiffs do not seek recognition of their right to get married,” the complaint states, “they seek a declaration that they actually are married, and recognition of their existing Wisconsin marriages. Plaintiff’s marriages were legal, valid, and recognized by state officials acting in good faith within the scope of their official duties under Wisconsin law when the plaintiffs entered into the marriages between June 6 and June 13.”
     The couples were married after U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
     About 500 same-sex couples were married in the same week, and at least 60 of the state’s 72 counties issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the complaint.
     However, at Van Hollen’s request, Crabb issued a stay on her ruling on June 13, pending an appeal.
     As a result of the stay, the couples and their families are “in an intolerable state of legal limbo that threatens their well-being, health, financial security, and family integrity, and denies their dignity as free and equal citizens,” the complaint states.
     Two of the couples, according to the complaint, have been denied joint parental status for their children. Without this status, in the event of one parent’s death, there is no guarantee the child would remain with its family, according to the complaint.
     “Despite the fact that Kiersten [Bloechl-Karlsen] has parented and raised her daughter since birth,” the complaint states, “in the eyes of the state law Kiersten is a stranger to the girl.”
     Stacie Christian cannot get benefits afforded to spouses of veterans despite Julie Tetzlaff’s prior military service, the complaint states. Conversely, Tetzlaff has been unable to register as a spouse for health benefits through Christian’s employer, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
     The couples have also been denied discounted joint fishing licenses and tax benefits granted to other married couples.
     “In its June 13 order in Wolf, the District Court did not address questions regarding the validity and recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples entered into in Wisconsin during the period between June 6 and the District Court’s entry of a stay on June 13,” the complaint states. “Indeed, the District Court has never addressed these questions.”
     Although the court has not issued a decision on the existing same-sex marriages, the complaint states, Van Hollen said the constitutional ban has been in constant effect.
     “Van Hollen, as the Attorney General of Wisconsin, stated that same-sex couples who wedded between June 6 and June 13 were not married in the eyes of the law,” the complaint states, “and that the ban on marriage for same-sex couples remained in full force during that period.”
     On Sept. 4, the 7th Circuit unanimously affirmed Crabb’s judgment that the state ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.
     Five days later, the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and declare Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban constitutional.
     Regardless of the outcome the complaint states, the fact that plaintiffs are legally married entitles them to the same rights as any married couple.
     “When plaintiffs legally married under Wisconsin law, they acquired fundamental rights in their marriages that are protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the complaint states. “Whether or not Wisconsin may constitutionally prohibit same-sex couples from entering into new marriages is a different question.”
     Plaintiffs seek a declaration that their marriages are constitutionally protected and an injunction preventing state agencies and officials from denying them marital rights.
     Their lead counsel is Hannah Chanoine with Mayer Brown LLP of New York City.