Thursday, July 3, 2008

news: Same-sex Wisconsin couples willing to risk criminal penalties to marry in California

news: Same-sex Wisconsin couples willing to risk criminal penalties to marry in California

Jane Burns
July 1, 2008

Every summer, Bob Klebba and David Waugh take a family beach vacation to San Diego. Besides fun and sun, this year's trip will have a little something extra: a wedding.

The two Madison men will be getting married at a San Diego courthouse in August. In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. Since June 17, same-sex couples have been getting married throughout California. Non-residents are allowed to marry there, too.

"What we might be looking for is outside recognition of our relationship -- recognition from society," Klebba said. "This is a way to ask for that recognition. Happily, California is willing to give us that."

Wisconsin, however, is not. Not only will Klebba's and Waugh's marriage not be recognized here, they could be taking a legal risk by entering into it. Wisconsin is a state that imposes criminal penalties on residents if they enter a marriage outside the state that would be prohibited in the state. The law was created to prohibit underage couples from crossing state lines to marry, but it could be interpreted to apply to same-sex marriages, according to Glenn Carlson of Fair Wisconsin, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians. In Wisconsin, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000, nine months in prison, or both.

"It would be interesting to be prosecuted," Klebba said. "It would really bring up a reaction in the public sentiment."

That's not why Klebba and Waugh are getting married, however. They're doing it because of what it means to each other.

"I want to have the same opportunity as everybody else to let my partner know, in the strongest of ways, that I am committed to him for life," Waugh said. "Marriage is kind of the ultimate, top-level commitment you can make with another person."

That's why Madisonians Kathy Cox and Kim Whalen also will be traveling to California in August. Last month, the west side couple celebrated 20 years together.

"It's the final piece of the puzzle," Cox said. "It legitimizes how we've been living our lives."

IN 2006, Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Carlson, who is executive director of Fair Wisconsin, said his group's next political challenge is working to get partnership recognition through in the next legislative session.

Carlson said he hadn't heard of many couples heading to California. He didn't know if that was because it won't be recognized here in Wisconsin, the legal risks or simply because of the costs of traveling to California.

"Some people will go, and I think it's great," he said. "I haven't heard of anyone who wants to use this as a way to challenge the courts. That message seems to be getting out: Please don't make a federal case of this."

Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization that focuses on gay rights, has issued an advisory called "Make Change, Not Lawsuits." It urges same-sex couples to let the issue work out state by state instead of risking a setback with a lawsuit at the federal level or in their home state.


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