Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was sued Monday on behalf of four same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in the state and to overturn a state law that makes it a crime for them to marry in another state.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Madison by the American Civil Liberties Union, is the latest by advocates seeking to expand recognition for gay couples beyond the 17 states where such marriages are allowed. Similar litigation is pending in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Michigan and Utah.
“More and more Americans over the past few years accept the idea that same-sex couples and their families shouldn’t be treated differently,” said John Knight, a lawyer with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “It is our hope that Wisconsin will soon join the other 17 states in granting the freedom to marry.”
Advocates of gay marriage moved the fight for recognition to the state level after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that left standing an order ending California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling also struck down a law that denied federal benefits to gay couples.
The court didn’t say whether similar state laws should also be struck down, leaving lower courts to grapple with that issue.
New Mexico was barred by its highest court on Dec. 19 from denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Last month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he would seek to overturn his state’s ban, comparing it to a prohibition on interracial unions. He is the fourth state attorney general to refuse to defend such a law.
Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Walker, a Republican, didn’t return an email seeking comment on the suit.
In an email, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, also a Republican, said he plans to “vigorously defend” the state’s marriage law.
“This constitutional amendment was approved by a large majority of Wisconsin residents,” Van Hollen said. “I believe the amendment is constitutional.”
Wisconsin’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection, according to the complaint. The law sends a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are “second-class citizens,” the ACLU said.
“The only way for Wisconsin couples to get the federal protections that come with marriage is for them to go out of state to marry,” the ACLU said. “But Wisconsin law says that may be a crime punishable by nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.”
The statute makes it a criminal offense to go outside the state to “contract a marriage prohibited under the laws of Wisconsin.”
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