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Domestic Partner Registry Statute: Wisconsin Supreme Court Weighs Future of Law

A four-year-long court dispute over the constitutionality of Wisconsin’s domestic registry statute for same-sex couples arrived at the state’s supreme court in October. During oral arguments in the case of Appling v. Walker, advocates from both sides, along with the court’s justices discussed and weighed the prospects of upholding or striking down the law. Changes to the law could have dramatic ramifications for the way Wisconsin’s same-sex couples engage in estate planning, and may impact other as well, depending on the outcome the court ultimately reaches.

The court case began after the state legislature passed a 2009 law that allowed same-sex couples to register with their counties of residence as domestic partners. By registering, the couples could take family medical leave to tend to their partners, secure visitation rights if their partners were hospitalized and make end-of-life decisions. Julaine Appling, the direct of Wisconsin Family Action, challenged the law, asserting that it violated a 2006 state constitutional amendment prohibiting the government from creating a status for same-sex couples identical or similar to marriage.

Both a Dane County Circuit Judge and the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals ruled the law constitutional, concluding that the status the registry statute created was markedly different from marriage, as it enshrined far fewer rights or responsibilities than the institution of marriage under Wisconsin law. Appling appealed her case to the Supreme Court, again arguing that the law should be struck down entirely. Supporters of the law urged the court to uphold the lower courts and the law as written.


The Supreme Court justices, during the oral argument, discussed resolving the matter through a third outcome: resolving the constitutional question by striking down only that part of the statute that limited participation in the registry program, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This outcome, if adopted by the court, would leave the registries intact, but would open them up to any couple, including heterosexual relationship partners or immediate relatives. The current law limits registering couples to same-sex pairs who are not closely related.

The court is still considering its decision.

The Appling case is a stark reminder to all Wisconsinites, but particularly those in same-sex relationships, about the importance of estate planning. Rights like those conferred by the domestic partner registry can be abruptly swept away by an unfavorable court ruling, legislative session or ballot initiatives, so it is absolutely vital to protect yourself and your partner through careful and thorough estate planning.

Wisconsin law gives every citizen considerable freedom, through powers of attorney and advance directives, to select the person who will make your financial, medical or end-of-life decisions for you if you can’t. Wills and living trusts allow you wide latitude in how you distribute your assets, with trusts permitting you to do so with a maximum of privacy. To make sure you have a proper plan in place that protects you even when the law changes, get in touch with Madison estate planning attorney Daniel J. Krause of Krause Law Offices LLC. He can provide you with personalized, thoughtful and wise solutions for most any estate planning situation, and set up a plan that safeguards your family. Contact Attorney Daniel J. Krause today.

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