Monday, August 24, 2009

Wisconsin Attorney General Refuses to Defend New DP Law Against Right Wing Law Suit, Receives Harsh Criticism

This story makes the blood boil.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Friday he would not defend the state in a lawsuit brought by conservative groups over the state's new domestic partner law, which has allowed same-sex couples to receive many but not all benefits of marriage. However, the plaintiffs say that it too closely resembles marriage, violating the state's ban on both marriage equality and civil unions.

What makes them similar?

Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reports that 413 couples have registered for domestic partnership since the law went into effect August 3 with more to come, giving these couples 40 of the more than 150 benefits available to married couples. But since the cost of registering is the same as applying for a marriage license, opponents claim that it's the cost that makes it too similar to marriage.

Can someone explain that logic to me? Please! If anything, it's a rip-off, and now we're being sued (indirectly) for that rip-off? Not only do gay and lesbian couples have to pay the same as married couples to get a tiny slice of the benefit pie, the whole of which their straight counterparts receive, they have to pay more taxes on top of it! If anything, the starkly separate AND unequal treatment of its citizens should cause Wisconsin to be sued.

The state's Supreme Court asked the state to respond to the lawsuit but has not decided yet to hear the case. Due to Van Hollen's decision, the state will not have to pay outside legal counsel on the back's of the taxpayers.

Van Hollen, a Republican who has not ruled out a run for governor in 2010, cited the state's 2006 amendment ban and stated that the domestic partnership law is unconstitutional so indefensible.

"My duty to is to the people of the state of Wisconsin and the highest expression of their will - the constitution of the state of Wisconsin," Van Hollen said. "When the people have spoken by amending our constitution, I will abide by their command. When policy-makers have ignored their words, I will not."

Governor Jim Doyle, who signed the law in July, said in an official statement, "The Attorney General's job is to represent the state and defend state law when there is a good faith defense to be made. His representation should not be based on whether he likes the state law. Clearly this is defensible. Constitutional law experts have examined the domestic partnership registry and believe it is sound and not in conflict with the state constitution. Attorney General Van Hollen's decision not to defend the domestic partner registry will force the costs of outside counsel onto taxpayers when the Attorney General should simply do his job."

Joint Legislative Council, a state nonpartisan legislative research office, agrees with the governor, saying the law would stand up to challenges because it doesn't come close to marriage, not providing “comprehensive, core aspects of the legal status of marriage to same-sex couples.” Those include the ability to divorce, file joint taxes and share marital property.

Critics of Van Hollen have been harsh, as they should be, stating that he's not doing his job but letting politics do the decision making, sacrificing the rights of LGBT citizens in an effort to keep his conservative supporters.

Openly gay State Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who ushered the law through passage, said in a statement, "It is unconscionable that in a time of fiscal crisis his actions will force the state taxpayers to fund outside attorneys to defend our constitution and perform Van Hollen's job. When the domestic partner registry is upheld, Van Hollen will have to explain to the people of Wisconsin why he shirked his duties and stuck them with the bill."

One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group, called Van Hollen out, claiming he has flip-flopped on his domestic partnership stance. In the attorney general's 2006 campaign for his position, he stated that it was clear lawmakers could extend benefits “traditionally associated with marriage” such as probate benefits and health insurance under the constitutional amendment.

"Attorney General JB Van Hollen is a right-wing legal activist who uses his taxpayer-financed office to serve his partisan political agenda. This abrupt flip flop on domestic partner benefits that he insisted during his campaign for Attorney General were legal, is the latest abuse of his office… Candidate Van Hollen promised that domestic partner protections were legal. Candidate Van Hollen promised he’d defend the state of Wisconsin. Attorney General Van Hollen has broken both of those promises," One Wisconsin Now said.

The state's high court returns to session in September, and four of the seven judges must agree to hear the case.

Oh, and remember when I said that the state should be sued? Well, it's being challenged at least.

The Supreme Court is also set to hear a challenge to the marriage amendment from Bill McConkey, a Door County resident whose daughter is gay, and who has argued that the amendment was improperly put to voters.

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