The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Mayer Brown have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples who wish to marry in Wisconsin or are seeking recognition for their legal out-of-state marriages.
Status: Victory! On Oct. 6, 2014 the Supreme Court denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. As a result of the Court’s action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah will now be able to marry the partners they love.
Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf
Eau Claire. Carol, 60, and Virginia, 74, both grew up in Kansas and moved to Wisconsin together in 1977. Carol worked as an elections administrator and city clerk, and is now retired. Virginia is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and also a professor emeritus of English at The University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she worked 24 years. They live in Eau Claire with their border collie/Australian shepherd mix, Z.
Carol and Virginia have been together 38 years, since their very first date in 1975. They were the first couple to join the Eau Claire domestic partner registry in 2009, and got married on their anniversary in December by a judge in Minnesota. As Virginia puts it, “We’ve been inching towards matrimony for 38 years!”
Carol and Virginia raised a son and daughter together – Virginia’s children from a previous relationship – and now have four grandchildren. Their granddaughters in particular very much want their marriage to be recognized in Wisconsin. Recently Carol and Virginia took Samantha, 16, and Megan, 13, to a friend’s wedding in Minneapolis, which Virginia officiated.
“They were really moved and talked a lot about it afterward,” Carol says. “It’s important to them that their grandmothers’ love is recognized in Wisconsin through marriage.”
Carol and Virginia routinely have been denied benefits afforded to legally married couples. While Carol worked for the City of Eau Claire, she was denied family medical leave many times when Virginia had surgeries, illnesses and injuries. They’ve even been denied a family membership at a local health club.
“The protections and benefits we’re missing out on are still really important to us,” Virginia says.
Carol adds: “The main reason I want to marry Virginia is that it would be an affirmation of our relationship and our family.”
Charvonne Kemp and Marie Carlson
Milwaukee. Charvonne, 43, and Marie, 48, have been partners more than seven years and raised two sons together. Charvonne is an accountant and Marie is a raw material handler for a manufacturing company. They both very much want to get married, and they want to do it in the state they call home.
“We’ve thought about going to Massachusetts or Canada, but we decided that if nobody else is going to recognize it, it doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean,” Marie says. “I want to call Charvonne my wife and have people understand what that means.”
Charvonne agrees: “I’m old fashioned in that way. I think a couple that commits to each other and lives together should be married. I love her with all my heart and soul, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
Charvonne and Marie are involved parents. Together they’ve raised Alexander, 21, and Christopher, 11, who are Charvonne’s sons from previous relationships. Charvonne and Marie were active in the PTA at Christopher’s school, holding offices and Charvonne serving twice on search committees to pick new principals. The boys would like to see them get married. At the ceremony, Alexander is going to be Marie’s “man of honor.”
Marie’s employer doesn’t provide domestic partner benefits, so last year, when Charvonne’s mother died, Marie had to use vacation time to attend the funeral. Charvonne’s company does provide some benefits, but she’s pretty sure that if Marie or she ever becomes seriously ill, they wouldn’t be able to take family medical leave.
“I feel that the commitment I’ve made to Charvonne and the boys, and the one they’ve made to me, should be allowed to be legal,” Marie says. “I want to proudly walk with my family. I want to do it the right way and the right way is marriage.”
Judith (Judi) Trampf and Katharina (Katy) Heyning
Madison. Judi, 53, and Katy, 51, met in college at the Girl Scout National Center in Wyoming. They were part of a group of women from the Midwest who would get together outside of summer camp.
“We were interested in each other, but fate would have it that one of us wouldn’t be free to date,” Judi says. “After four years we finally started dating long distance, and eventually we both wound up in Madison.”
In July, they’ll celebrate their 25th anniversary. Both work at The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where Judi is Director of Human Resources and Diversity, and Katy is Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. They love boating, kayaking, traveling, and riding their BMW motorcycles – which, Katy says, “are quite different from Harleys!”
After Judi and Katy had been together 15 years, Judi’s family insisted they have a ceremony to recognize and celebrate their commitment like a wedding. They also became domestic partners in 2009. But a domestic partnership fails to grant the same rights, let alone societal status, as marriage.
In 2002, Katy had a seizure while the couple was traveling. Although Katy and Judi had drawn up health care power-of-attorney papers, they didn’t have a copy of the document with them. As a result, hospital staff provided emergency care and deferred any further health care decisions to Katy’s brother, who was her closest living relative. And although Katy had trouble concentrating and responding after the seizure, medical providers continued to question her, failing to address any questions to Judi.
“If we were legally married, we’d know we have the same protections as other couples,” Judi says. “We would have property, visitation, and other rights. We wouldn’t have to wonder what was covered if one of us is ill or dies.”
“We want to know that if someone is in the hospital, we can see each other and have the right to make decisions for each other,” Katy says. “Judi is the love of my life, and we’ve been together in sickness and in health. We want recognition of that.”
Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann
Milwaukee. Roy, 56, and Garth, 58, have been together 37 years. They met through mutual friends when they were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and got together on Election Day in November 1976.
“Garth voted Carter and I voted Ford,” Roy recalls. “I was really rooting for Betty.”
Roy, who’s lived in Wisconsin since age 12, has worked as an editor at UWM for 32 years. Garth, a native Wisconsinite, was laid off last spring from his customer service position, but is temping for his old employer as he looks for a new job. The couple attends a United Church of Christ church and has two dogs, Daisy and Winston.
“We have a lot in common, and we always have a lot to talk about,” Garth says. “Roy is very gentle and giving, and he’s always been very honest and forthright.”
Adds Roy: “Garth has a terrific heart.”
They had a church commitment ceremony in 2009 with only a couple of friends, their pastor and his wife. Looking back on it, Roy says, “it’s bittersweet because it felt like something we were doing in secret.”
A few years ago, Garth was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to have most of his right lung removed. At the suggestion of Garth’s surgeon, they had papers drawn up, granting Roy power of attorney. Following Garth’s surgery in August 2011, he had a medical emergency, and his doctors put him into a medically induced coma to allow his body to stabilize.
Garth’s coma lasted more than three weeks. During that time, Roy included Garth’s father in meetings with the medical team to discuss his treatment. The surgeon felt confident Garth would recover, and he was right. Today Garth is still living cancer-free.
But Garth and Roy later discovered that while Garth was in the coma, his father tried to override Roy’s power of attorney to take Garth off life support. Garth was so hurt and upset that he no longer speaks to his father.
“What upset me most wasn’t that he wanted to take me off life support,” Garth says. “What hurt the most was that my father still didn’t see Roy as my spouse after all this time.”
Johannes Wallmann and Keith Borden
Madison. Johannes, 39, and Keith, 40, have been together for 15 years. Johannes is a music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a professional jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. Keith is a classically trained singer and yoga instructor. They met in New York City on Halloween in 1998. Johannes was playing in a band for a concert that Keith had produced. Somehow, Johannes got the idea that he was supposed to wear a costume, and he showed up to perform wearing a sailor suit. He was the only person in costume, and Keith says, “He really stuck out!” They began dating a few weeks later and have been together ever since. Johannes says, “Keith is incredibly kind. He inspires me to try to be a kinder, better person.”
Johannes, born in Germany, grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia but has been in the United States since college. Keith was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois. They lived together in New York for a while when they were first a couple, but Johannes only had a temporary visa. Concerned about the stability of their future together, the couple decided to move to Canada, where Johannes, a Canadian citizen, was able to sponsor Keith for permanent residency. “That was a huge thing, to ask Keith to leave his country so we could be together,” says Johannes. Canada allows same-sex couples to marry, so Johannes proposed and Keith accepted.
While they were apartment-hunting for the planned 2007 move to Canada, Johannes was offered his first tenure-track position at a university in California. The yoga studio where Keith worked in New York was opening a Bay Area facility where Keith could work. So Johannes and Keith abandoned the plan to move north of the border, but went ahead with their wedding in August because they’d planned so much at that point and really wanted to be married.
While there was some uncertainty due to the passage of Proposition 8 and litigation about the proposition’s legality, Johannes and Keith’s marriage was legally recognized by the state for more than four years of their time in California. They filed joint state tax returns, Keith was covered as a spouse on Johannes’s health insurance, and, had it been necessary, either one of them could have made critical health decisions on the other’s behalf.
When they decided to move to Wisconsin in 2012 so that Johannes could teach at UW-Madison, Johannes and Keith realized they were moving to a state that would not recognize their marriage. The State of Wisconsin treats their relationship as though it ceased to exist for state law purposes. But Johannes and Keith have never wavered in their belief in their marriage. Keith says, “From the beginning with Johannes, everything seemed so natural, like this relationship was the puzzle piece we needed to complete this picture of what our lives were going to be.”
Salud Garcia and Pam Kleiss
Madison. Salud, 50, and Pam, 49, were both working for the American Association of Retired Persons — Pam in Seattle, and Salud in California — when they met. A coworker who was friends with both of them used to forward funny emails from Salud to Pam. Eventually, Salud came to a meeting in the Washington office and they were finally introduced. “OH! You’re Salud from the emails!” Pam exclaimed excitedly. Pam recalls: “The moment I met her, I was totally smitten, just whacked out in love.” They have now been together for 18 years.
When their daughter was born in 2001, she was 14 weeks premature and weighed just over two pounds. Just after the birth, Pam also experienced complications, and Salud asked for a family I.D. bracelet that would allow her to enter the neo-natal intensive care unit to care for their child. She was refused because those bracelets were “only for family,” until Pam’s brother-in-law later persuaded a nurse to relent and give Salud a bracelet. Salud later adopted their daughter in Washington State where second-parent adoption is available. But in the hospital in the early days of her child’s life, Salud realized that if Pam had died during childbirth, she could have lost both her partner and her daughter, because the law did not protect her relationships with them.
Now 12, Salud and Pam’s daughter has an active social life. Despite some physical disabilities resulting from a hospital-acquired infection when she was still in the NICU, she is very active in sports, and loves a physical challenge. As for the law that keeps her parents from getting married, Pam says their daughter “just doesn’t understand why anyone would object to our marriage.”
Salud and Pam have lived in Madison since 2002, and they registered as domestic partners in Wisconsin in 2010.
Kami Young and Karina Willes
West Milwaukee. Kami, 36, and Karina, 44, have been together for 13 years. They met a few minutes after midnight at a New Year’s Eve party on January 1, 2001, and went on their first date shortly later. They live in West Milwaukee with their dogs and cat. They registered as domestic partners in 2009, and were legally married in December 2013 with their closest friends in attendance in a historic courtroom in Winona, Minnesota. Karina, who didn’t think she’d get very sentimental, surprised herself when she cried through the entire ceremony. “I just never thought this would ever happen in my lifetime. You get so used to being a second-class citizen that when you’re not anymore, it’s overwhelming.”
Kami and Karina are just starting a family – Kami gave birth to their daughter in late March. Despite having two parents who love her and care for her, only Kami is recognized as her parent by the state. In fact, as far as the law is concerned, Karina and the baby are strangers. In contrast, if Kami and Karina’s marriage were recognized, Karina would automatically be recognized as the baby’s parent.
Not just that, but Wisconsin law doesn’t allow Karina to secure her parental rights through a stepparent adoption, nor will Wisconsin allow Karina to take advantage of the second-parent adoption process available in many other states. Kami and Karina are deprived of access to the same legal protections of their parental relationship with their child that are available to married couples, for no other reason than that they are both women.
Bill Hurtubise and Dean Palmer
Racine. Bill and Dean, both 40, live in Racine with their three children, ages 5, 4, and 2. Bill grew up in Racine, and he commutes four hours a day to work in Chicago so that he, Dean, and their children can live in his hometown near family, friends, and their church. The couple met in an online chat room and hit it off immediately. Dean, who lived in St. Louis at the time, moved to Racine just a few months after their first visit. Shortly after he arrived, Dean took Bill to a lookout tower at Racine Harbor on the shore of Lake Michigan and proposed. At that moment, they decided to commit their lives to each another.
Both Dean and Bill had always wanted to have children. Dean has adopted two of their children through Wisconsin’s foster care system, and Bill is their legal guardian. Both Bill and Dean are legal guardians to their third child, with plans to adopt. If they could marry, their children would benefit from additional legal protections and security, such as a straightforward means to secure both parents’ relationships with their children through adoption.
“We’re like any other normal family in Wisconsin,” says Dean. “We pay our taxes, we take our kids to dance class and sports practice, we fall asleep the second the kids go to bed. We shouldn’t be treated any differently by the state.”
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