By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON, Wis. — The roughly 500 same-sex couples who married in June will have their partnerships recognized by the state of Wisconsin and some couples will be able to amend past tax returns, Gov. Scott Walker’s administration ordered Monday.
The Republican governor, an opponent of same-sex marriage, made his order after the U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected Wisconsin’s appeal to reinstate its gay marriage ban.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said his administration would now treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same for issuing wedding licenses and “determining the rights, protections, obligations, or benefits of marriage.”
“Per the guidance from the Department of Justice, state agencies will examine and update forms, manuals, and other documents consistent with the ruling, and the state will be treating licenses issued in June as valid marriage licenses,” Patrick said.
Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, called the order “great news” and said it should help to wrap up litigation over gay marriage. The ACLU represents same-sex couples who brought the original lawsuit against the state for recognition of the right to marry as well as a follow-up lawsuit regarding several hundred couples who didn’t have their June marriages recognized.
Kiersten Bloechl-Karlsen, one of the plaintiffs in the follow-up lawsuit, praised the order.
“In our case, I’ve been a mother to our little girl since the day she was born but was unable to sign her birth certificate. We can now pursue a second parent adoption so that our right as a family to remain legally connected to each other, no matter what happens, is not compromised,” she said in a statement.
In a question and answer page on its web page, the state Department of Revenue said that going forward same-sex newlyweds will need to file their taxes as married filing jointly or separately, just as other couples do.
Couples also will be available to file amended tax returns for 2013 and prior years where applicable, according to the agency. That would allow couples to go as far back as amending tax returns filed for the 2010 tax year in April 2011.
But a couple would have had to have been lawfully married during the year they are amending the return, which means they would have had to have been married in another state that recognized same-sex marriage at the time.
The state revenue department clarified that it also is ending the practice of treating same-sex couples differently with respect to certain other questions, such as the taxation of a partner’s health benefits.
Lawsuits challenging state same-sex marriage bans accelerated after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the national government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
Amid that national wave of litigation, eight same-sex couples from the state sued in February to overturn the amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution banning gay marriage and civil unions.
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison agreed with them in June and struck down the ban but a week later stayed her decision to prevent couples from marrying while state officials pursued their appeal.
About 500 couples in Wisconsin married between June 6 and 13 — after Crabb’s initial ruling but before she issued a stay that halted marriages during the appeals process.
A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld Crabb’s ruling striking down same-sex marriages as unconstitutional. Van Hollen appealed a month ago to the Supreme Court, which rejected his petition last week.
While the matter remained on appeal, Van Hollen and Walker’s administration did not recognize those marriages held in June. In response, four of those couples sued last month for that state recognition.
Dupuis said Walker’s latest action should help resolve the latest lawsuit.
“We still plan to seek an enforceable agreement or judgment, so we’ll have a remedy if they are not good to their word. But I think this does mean things should wind down quickly,” he said.
Also Monday, Dupuis clarified a past statement on what happens to same-sex couples in Wisconsin who were previously registered with the state as domestic partners.
If those couples marry, their domestic partnership would automatically dissolve under state law, Dupuis said Monday. Previously, Dupuis said he believed domestic partners also could marry without the partnership ending.
Photo via Susan Melkisethian via Flickr
Interested in more political news and analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!