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WI attorney: Bill underscores legal needs of same-sex marriages

Two people holding hands.
TheepatheepKawinpathawee/9nong - stock.adobe.com
Two people holding hands.

Congress has signed off on a bill that preserves federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. A legal expert in Wisconsin says it should help to keep legal rights for these couples secure.

The Respect for Marriage Act came together out of fears that a conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court would overturn a 2015 decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriages. The act doesn't force states to issue marriage licenses if that happens, but they'd have to recognize marriages from states that do.

Wausau-based attorney Andrew Schmidt said his office has helped same-sex couples exercise the legal rights that have been afforded to them for awhile now.

"We did powers of attorney for health care and advanced-directive medical directives," he said. "We also did an advanced directive on finances, or a power of attorney for finances, and wills."

Supporters of federal protections also have noted they can allow these couples to file their taxes jointly. In 2006, Wisconsin voters approved a same-sex marriage ban, but several years later, a court ruled that amendment was unconstitutional. The ACLU has said it believes the Wisconsin ruling would still hold if the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling is overturned.

As for the Respect for Marriage Act, supporters have said it has some provisions they disagree with, such as still allowing vendors to deny services to same-sex couples based on their own religious beliefs. Schmidt said he feels bill negotiators should have done more to prevent discrimination.

"There are people out there who will refuse to bake a cake or refuse to offer a taxi ride," he said.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups worry that should the Supreme Court decision fall, same-sex couples with little money would find it hard to travel to get a marriage license if there's a ban where they reside. Republican lawmakers and conservative groups who criticized the act said marriage should be defined as being between one man and one woman.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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