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Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen Plays Politics With Domestic Partnerships

August 21, 2009

It should not surprise anyone that Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen has decided to cozy up to his conservative base for political reasons rather than defend the state’s domestic partnerships.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Friday he would not defend the state in a lawsuit over the state’s new domestic partner law.

Supporters of Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions last month asked the state Supreme Court to declare a system of recognizing domestic partnerships unconstitutional. Couples started applying for declarations of domestic partnerships this month under the provision that was part of the budget Gov. Jim Doyle signed in July.

Van Hollen, a Republican who has not ruled out a run for governor in 2010, said his decision wasn’t based on a policy disagreement, but was rooted in his responsibility to uphold the state’s constitution.

Oh, please!

Van Hollen is out of step on this matter.  Wisconsin is, after all, the first state to grant domestic partnerships to gay couples despite having the constitutional ban.   And proudly we are  also the first Midwestern state to give gay couples some legal protections legislatively.  He might be mindful that there was no hue and cry from any sector during the budget deliberations about domestic partnerships.  It was only after Governor Doyle signed the budget that the right-wing fanatics came out from under the rocks to start their usual attempts to raise money and headlines.  Sadly it seems that Van Hollen, in an effort to align himself more closely with that element, has taken the position he did today.

The legal and constitutional questions were dealt with by all concerned, and it is only those who want to see bigotry enshrined into the fabric of our society that are pressing this now.  Van Hollen knows better, and yet is more concerned with courting the conservatives than doing what is legally sound.

The fact is that society is moving faster towards justice and equality than folks like Van Hollen want to accept.  He might have future political hopes, but they will not be made on the back of gay-bashing.  And that is, though sugar-coated in legal terms, what he is doing.

  1. Solly permalink
    August 24, 2009 10:00 AM

    Don’t pick on poor JB, he may be conservative, but he has no idea how to figure legal costs. Take for example his response to the Chairs of Joint Finance about how much his law suit to muck up the 2008 elections cost the state……………$155 dollars total! Them DOJ attorneys must work cheap!

    And, while I agree that this arbitrary practice of deciding what to defend has come home to roost for progressives (it’s real clear to us what’s right) I don’t think it’s a conservative approach for JB to assume the roles of judge and jury. This is a case before the supreme court, not a request for an A.G. opinion. A good argument can be made as to why domestic partners is constitutional, the legislative intent is indicated by Gundrum and Fitzgerald’s statements, and even Julaine Appling supports that case.

    On the other hand, I wish Obama’s DOJ would use a little discretion in not supporting DOMA. We can’t have it both ways, but in these instances we can’t have it either way.

  2. Fred from Lac du Flambeau permalink
    August 21, 2009 8:23 PM

    $175/hour????? Maybe 20 or 30 years ago. Try doubling your estimate for the cost of outside counsel.

  3. August 21, 2009 7:12 PM

    Didn’t Doyle refuse to defend Wisconsin’s Good Friday law back when he was AG because he believed it to be unconstitutional? I seem to remember that Tommy had to hire outside council.

    I’m not trying to compare the merits of the two cases. I’m simply pointing out that Wisconsin has a long history of partisan Attorneys General who pick and choose which laws to defend, so Van Hollen is not necessarily out of step. The wingnuts who elected him are mostly the same wingnuts who voted for that constitutional amendment, so it would be politically foolish for him to defend the State’s domestic partnership law.

  4. August 21, 2009 6:35 PM

    Thanks for commenting Brad.

    As a consequence of the the mean-spirited nature of placing a marriage amendment for political purposes on the ballot in 2006, and the shallow and at times mistaken nature of what was actually being voted on, brings us to this point in time.

    There are equal rights in Wisconsin that are not being experienced by all, and the domestic partnership plan will help attain those rights . This plan does not go far enough for certain, but at least it gets us moving in the correct direction again.

    A couple years ago after helping a friend change a tire, we were putting items back in his trunk when I saw a file of legal papers he kept. I understood instantly the files were there in the case he or his partner were involved in a medical situation on the road which required a hospital or doctor to be aware that this couple could and wanted to make decisions for each other in emergencies. We talked about it for a couple minutes and he told me included in the file were hospital visitation authorizations, living wills, directives to attending physicians, powers of attorney forms for both health care and finance that were notarized and signed by a raft of people. Additionally, there were forms for declaration of domestic partner status; a non-binding legal agreement to support the other documents claiming that the one had the right to assist the other in any situation. All of the forms were in duplicate and reciprocal, and must have cost a fair amount in attorney’s fees.

    That is the reality of being gay in Wisconsin. To ensure that basic rights and dignities are afforded gay couples, they must carry expensive legal documents with them–and then even some of those documents may not be honored, and they are to expect that. How many straight couples need and require the same such paperwork in the case of an accident? How many expect in advance that their wishes may or may not be honored in a time of crisis?

    The opponents of domestic partnerships can hide behind legal paperwork, but for many in the state the reality is that being prepared for the worst is a daily reminder of how tenuous equality and justice can be.

  5. August 21, 2009 5:34 PM

    I don’t disagree with all of your statements, but is he really out of step?

    The strength of the 2006 Amendment vote and its preeminence in Wisconsin law has to be distinguished away – and you haven’t made a sufficient or convincing attempt to do that.

  6. Ron permalink
    August 21, 2009 4:17 PM

    Is this Van Hollen the fiscal conservative? Hiring an outside counsel to defend the law, a task normally performed by the A.G. is costly. Outside lawyers typically cost taxpayers about $175 per hour. Who is looking out for the taxpayers now John?

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