With Marriage Rights in Limbo, Gay Couples in Wis. Fight for Adoption Rights

In June, Wisconsin witnessed both enormous highs and distressing setbacks for those who are battling for gay rights.

On June 6, 2014, District Judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban, asserting that the case “is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.”

That weekend, various county clerk offices around the state extended their hours to allow couples to exercise their right to marry. While each county office was given discretion as to whether to begin issuing licenses, over two-thirds of counties across the states began to do so in the week following the ruling. Pictures proliferated in newspapers and around the Internet of hundreds of couples celebrating with friends and loved ones.

However, the ruling remains in legal limbo.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued an appeal, asking for all same-sex marriages to cease pending the outcome of his appeal. On June 13, a week after granting constitutionality to same-sex marriages, Judge Crabb upheld the request for a stay on the basis that a federal court had ruled earlier in Utah to put a hold on marriages. Judge Crabb issued her decision stating that she had to follow the higher court’s ruling in this case.

Van Hollen issued a statement praising the stay, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin (ACLU) prepared to file a lawsuit to allow the marriages to continue. Over 500 gay couples married during the week between Crabb’s initial ruling and her second ruling.

Other couples, however, took a different route. Frustrated by the marriage issue, they sought to pursue a suit for the expansion of same-sex couple adoption rights.

In Wisconsin, stepparent adoptions allow an expansion of rights to a non-biologically related parent, including health insurance, death benefits, and child support. However, these adoptions are reserved for married couples.

With the stay on same-sex marriages, family status for gay couples remains in uncertain territory — not only for partner benefits afforded to married couples, but for their children as well. Since it may be years before the Wisconsin case is resolved, gay rights advocates hope to push forward a decision on the grounds of equal rights for familial protection.

During the Supreme Court ruling on California’s Proposition 8 in 2013, the lawyers arguing against the constitutionality of a marriage ban emphasized the effect the ban could have on the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples. The court’s decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, emphasized this effect as well.

Wisconsin now hopes to emulate the familial protection argument to overcome the possible delays set into effect over this past week.

Most states, however, still have barriers that prevent same-sex couples from adopting. Only 19 states allow joint adoptions and only 13 allow second-parent adoptions.

With so much focus on the rapid overturning of marriage bans, Wisconsin proves that this process still is encountering substantial obstacles. Same-sex adoption, therefore, appears to be the next frontier for same-sex equality.