October 15, 2013

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MADISON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin filed an amicus brief Friday in support of an appeals decision in the case Appling v. Walker. The brief was filed in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in Dane County on behalf of the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce and four Wisconsin lesbian couples who have registered as domestic partners.

The case concerns Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry, which grants limited but important legal protections to same-sex couples. These include hospital visitation rights and the ability to take family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner.

Soon after domestic partnerships became legal in Wisconsin in June 2009, Wisconsin Family Action, an antigay group, sued the state in Wisconsin Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates the antigay constitutional amendment barring marriage equality.

"The idea that domestic partnerships violate Wisconsin’s anti-marriage amendment is ridiculous," said Larry Dupuis, ACLU of Wisconsin legal director. "Domestic partnerships don’t create a legal status that is identical or even remotely similar to marriage."

After the Supreme Court rejected Wisconsin Family Action’s case in 2009, the group filed another suit in Dane County Circuit Court. In December 2012, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the domestic partner registry as constitutional. The group then appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is now considering the case.

The ACLU’s brief to the Supreme Court points out that states that provide protections to same-sex couples have advantages in recruiting and retaining qualified employees for existing businesses and in attracting businesses who desire a welcoming environment for their employees. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case on October 23, 2013.

"Granting couples domestic partner benefits is a civil rights issue, but it also makes good business sense," said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin." In Wisconsin, hundreds of employers already offer these benefits to employees. Revoking the domestic partnership law would undermine employers’ ability to attract a first-rate workforce. It would also put Wisconsin out-of-step with the rest of the nation. As of this year, more than 60 percent of all Fortune 500 companies offer medical benefits to same-sex domestic partners."

The amicus brief was prepared by Donald Schott, Joseph Hanes and Sarah Fowles of Quarles & Brady, LLP, John Knight of the ACLU LGBT Project, and Dupuis.

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