State Laws and Legislation

Wisconsin Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law

Licenses marriages for same-sex couples? No.  

Honors marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions? No.
Wisconsin law states: “Under the laws of this state, marriage is a legal relationship between two equal persons, a husband and wife, who owe to each other mutual responsibility and support. … Marriage, so far as its validity at law is concerned, is a civil contract, to which the consent of the parties capable in law of contracting is essential, and which creates the legal status of husband and wife. … If any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state who is disabled or prohibited from contracting marriage under the laws of this state goes into another state or country and there contracts a marriage prohibited or declared void under the laws of this state, such marriage shall be void for all purposes in this state with the same effect as though it had been entered into in this state. … The following may be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than nine months or both: Penalty for marriage outside the state to circumvent the laws. Any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state who goes outside the state and there contracts a marriage prohibited or declared void under the laws of this state.” The state constitution declares: “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”  

Any form of statewide relationship recognition for same-sex couples? Yes.
As of August 2009, same-sex couples can register as domestic partners and receive limited rights and responsibilities under state law (not all the rights and responsibilities available to spouses). These rights and responsibilities include hospital visitation and the ability to take Family Medical Leave to care for a sick partner. In total 43 benefits are available.

Other Information: In July 2009, Julaine Appling, president of the anti-equality Wisconsin Family Action, filed a lawsuit (Appling v. Doyle) challenging the domestic partnership law violating the state constitution.  In 2006 Wisconsin voters passed a constitutional amendment, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and preventing the state from giving same-sex couples legal status that is substantially similar to marriage.  In June 2009, then-Governor Jim Doyle had included the domestic partnership law in the state budget. When Wisconsin Family Action filed the lawsuit, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to defend the registry, saying it was unconstitutional, but Governor Doyle appointed private attorneys to defend the law.  On June 20, 2011, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Daniel Moeser ruled that the domestic partnership law did not “create a legal status for domestic partners that is identical or substantially similar to that of marriage. Therefore [the domestic partnership law] does not violate the Marriage Amendment.”  

Citations: WIS. STAT. §765.001(2); WIS. STAT. §765.01; WIS. STAT. §765.04(1); WIS. STAT. §76530(1)(a); WIS. CONST. Art. III, §13. Appling v. Doyle, Case No. 10-CV-4434,  Wis. Dis. Ct. 11.

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Updated: Tue, June 21, 2011 - 11:00:41