A group of same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage, arguing the prohibition is unconstitutional and has denied them civil rights married couples enjoy.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit for the couples in federal court in Madison. The ban violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and due process clause, the lawsuit alleged, arguing the prohibition deprives same-sex couples of the legal protections afforded married couples for no reason other than their sexual orientation.
The lawsuit went on to argue same-sex Wisconsin couples can't get married in another state and return to Wisconsin legally. Under state law, anyone who marries in another state to circumvent Wisconsin statutes can face up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.
"Wisconsin's refusal to recognize these Plaintiffs' committed relationships, its elimination of even the possibility of seeking redress through the state legislature, and the possibility of criminal prosecution for doing nothing more than marrying the person they love has led these Plaintiffs' to seek relief from this Court," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit names Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, both Republicans, as defendants. A spokesman for Walker didn't immediately return a message. Van Hollen said in a statement he believes the ban is constitutional and promised to "vigorously" defend it. He did not elaborate.
A 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution bars same-sex marriage or anything substantially similar. Wisconsin does offer a domestic registry that affords same-sex couples who join it a host of legal rights but the state Supreme Court is weighing whether the registry is illegal in the face of the amendment.
The ACLU has filed similar cases in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon, John Knight, a senior ACLU attorney who specializes in gay rights litigation, told reporters at a news conference to announce the Wisconsin case.
Nearly 50 other lawsuits seeking the right to marry that don't involve the ACLU are moving in about 20 states, ACLU attorney Larry Dupuis added. He said national sentiment is moving toward accepting same-sex marriage.
"Obviously, there has been momentum," he said.