FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wisconsin Legislature Has No Basis Interfering in Lawsuit Seeking Equal Treatment For Lesbian and Gay Employees, ACLU Says
MADISON, WI -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed legal papers today urging a Madison judge to exclude the state legislature from interfering in a lawsuit seeking domestic partner benefits for lesbian and gay employees of the state. The ACLU charges that the legislators behind the move are misrepresenting the costs of the benefits to disguise their real motives for aligning themselves with the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund.
"The people of Wisconsin are being hoodwinked," said Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. "Lawmakers have been using the cost excuse for years to justify denying lesbian and gay employees equal benefits, but the truth is that the costs are minimal. These legislators are hoping that if they blow enough smoke the public will lose sight of what's really at stake here. Our clients are doing the same work as their straight colleagues, but their families are forced to go without adequate insurance."
In May, the legislature's Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Legislative Organization voted to authorize the anti-gay legal organization, Alliance Defense Fund, to represent the legislature in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of six lesbian state employees seeking domestic partner insurance and family leave protections for their families. Although the state's Attorney General is already vigorously defending against the lawsuit, the Alliance Defense Fund asked the judge hearing the case to allow the legislature to be a party to the lawsuit.
The legislators behind the effort to enter into the lawsuit have maintained in the press that they are only concerned about the costs the state would have to pay to provide the benefits, yet decades of data from states, municipalities and businesses that provide the benefits have shown that the costs are far less than one percent of employee health care expenditures. In fact, the cost for the state of Minnesota to provide the benefits to its lesbian and gay employees was less than $200,000 per year. (For additional information on the costs of providing domestic partner benefits, visit /node/23708.)
The legislature's history on the issue proves that cost is not what is motivating their decision the ACLU said. When the issue of domestic partner health coverage for state employees came before the state legislature earlier this year, it was defeated even though Rep. Mark Pocan introduced language that would have required the state to use existing funds to provide the benefits.
"This is politics at its absolute lowest," said John Knight of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "A handful of anti-gay legislators have cast aside the democratic principles of separation of powers solely to deny health insurance to a group of lesbian employees whose families are facing serious medical needs. It's clear they will stop at nothing to deny the existence of gay families, regardless of the harms to families that result."
The legal papers filed by the ACLU today oppose this unusual move by the legislature which would slow down the judicial process, preventing the lesbian employees from obtaining the health insurance and family leave protection they need for their families now.
"Important constitutional issues -- and the health of real families -- are at stake. Hopefully the court will see this anti-gay politics for what it is and tell the legislature to go back to its business of solving the state's real problems," said Larry Dupuis, the ACLU of Wisconsin's legal director, and one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
The Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the legislature, has been unsuccessful in earlier attempts to bring politics into the courts by making legislators a part of court proceedings. Just last month, the Iowa Supreme Court said it was improper for a group of state legislators there to intervene in a legal matter brought by two lesbians seeking to dissolve their civil union.
Additional information about the costs to states of providing domestic partner health insurance, biographical information about the clients who are being denied adequate health insurance, as well as a copy of the ACLU's brief opposing intervention by the legislature are available by clicking Hegeland v. Wisconsin at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.