Wisconsin's domestic-partnership registry does not violate the state constitution's ban on same-sex marriage, a judge ruled Monday.
The decision is being touted as a victory for gay rights, although Dane County circuit judge Daniel Moeser's ruling cites the fact that domestic partnerships, established in Wisconsin in 2009, convey far fewer rights and responsibilities than marriage.
"The state does not recognize domestic partnership in a way that even remotely resembles how the state recognizes marriage," Moeser wrote. "Moreover, domestic partners have far fewer legal rights, duties, and liabilities in comparison to the legal rights, duties, and liabilities of spouses."
Since the Wisconsin legislature set up the registry in 2009, about 1,700 couples have entered into domestic partnerships. In 2006 voters had approved a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage in the state.
Gov. Scott Walker, a first-term Republican, refused to defend the registry because he believed it was unconstitutional, and he told the court so in May, the Associated Press reports. However, the court had already heard arguments by then. His predecessor, Democrat Jim Doyle, had appointed private attorneys to defend the law after the state's attorney general had declined to do so.
The conservative group Wisconsin Family Action, which brought the lawsuit against the registry, vowed to appeal Moeser's decision as far as the state Supreme Court if necessary. "We're going to work through the process and we will be appealing as we work to defend the constitution and the institution of marriage," the group's president, Julaine Appling, told AP.
Katie Belanger, director of gay rights organization Fair Wisconsin, which had intervened in the case to defend the registry, said her group is prepared for the appeal process, but Moeser's ruling still makes it a "great day for Wisconsin."