In 2009, a group of people who were part on an organization called Wisconsin Family Action filed a lawsuit in Wisconsin State Court under a provision in the Wisconsin State Constitution, known as the Marriage Amendment, against the State of Wisconsin. The plaintiffs, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, asked the court for an injunction, claiming that Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry violated the Marriage Amendment, which prohibits marriage or anything replicating marriage between anyone other than one man and one woman and forbids "Vermont-style" civil unions. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the Marriage Amendment forbid the recognition of relationships that were similar to marriage in nature, as opposed to allowing those relationship to be recognized, but forbidding them from being treated like a marriage under the law.
In November 2009, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to exercise original jurisdiction over the matter. On August 18, 2010, the plaintiffs refiled the claim in Dane County Circuit Court. On December 8, 2010, Fair Wisconsin, Inc. was granted leave to intervene on the side of the defendants.
On December 22, 2011, the government defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and on March 8, 2011, the plaintiffs cross-filed. However, on May 13, 2011, the government defendants filed a motion to withdraw from the case, stating that, under the new administration, their position was consistent with that of the plaintiffs. There was a hearing on the matter on June 1, 2011, and the court determined that the government defendants would remain a party to the case.
On June 20, 2011, the trial court ruled that the domestic partnership registry did not violate the Marriage Amendment, on the grounds that it did not create a legal status for domestic partners that was identical or virtually identical to that created by marriage and did not create anything remotely similar to a "Vermont-style" civil union because there were countless rights extended to married couple that were not extended to domestic partners. Summary judgment was granted to the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed.
On July 5, 2012, the case was certified to the Supreme Court by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals decided that, due to the statewide importance of the issues and in the interest of receiving a prompt and final resolution, the case should go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for a final ruling. However, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case until it had been heard by the Court of Appeals.
On December 20, 2012, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's decision. The appellate court decided that there were significant differences in the eligibility and formation requirements and in the legal rights and obligations afforded to domestic partnerships versus marriages sufficient to satisfy the Marriage Amendment. Moreover, the court ruled that it did not matter that domestic partnership stood alone as an alternative to marriage, because it was irrelevant how similar domestic partnership was to other legally recognized relationships, as long as domestic partnerships and marriage were not "substantially similar" to each other. The plaintiffs appealed again.
On July 31, 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision, ruling that the amendment to the State Constitution was not intended to cover cohabiting same-sex relationships. The Supreme Court found that the Marriage Amendment did not preclude a mechanism to give couples in exclusive, intimate relationships outside of marriage a limited set of benefits. The Supreme Court, in large part, based their decision upon what kind of relationships voters understood the amendment to exclude when they voted to pass it, and the fact that proponents of the bill told voters that it would not preclude the legislature from bestowing benefits on same-sex couples.Katherine Reineck - 04/05/2015