© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Questions in Wisconsin After Supreme Court Strikes DOMA

Win McNamee/Getty Images

When it comes to Supreme Court rulings, this has been a historic week. One day after the country’s highest court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, it leveled the Defense of Marriage Act. It had denied federal benefits to married, same-sex couples. What does the ruling mean for Wisconsin?

Back in 2006, Wisconsin voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.  That amendment won’t be altered by the Supreme Court’s decision to grant federal benefits to lesbian and gay married couples, according to Marquette Law Professor Janine Geske.

“It is a significant decision, but it is does not give the right to someone to marry someone of the same sex,” Geske says.

However, Geske says if a same-sex couple marries elsewhere but lives here, they will now be eligible for federal benefits.

“They could be everything from social security to tax treatment, you know, other kinds of benefits, Medicare benefits, so things that the federal government has. It doesn’t address all the many state benefits that accrued if someone was legally married to someone else,” Geske says.

But what about benefits that use both state and federal dollars, such as Medicaid? Geske says that’s one of many unanswered questions.

“Well you’re now asking the next level of litigation that comes out of the case. My guess, and it’s only a guess at this point, we’re just going to have to see how this plays out, and I suspect some states will fight it. But the Medicare and Medicaid laws are generally federal laws. And if they’re federal laws, what this case says is that they cannot discriminate,” Geske says.

The patchwork of laws existing across the country, is already confusing, according to Denise Cawley. She’s a board member at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center. Cawley expects Wednesday’s ruling to further blur issues. 

“In my family, our accountant works with us and does our taxes about eight different ways before figuring out  who gets the house or who gets the child or how property is divided and income and things like that,” Cawley says.

Yet Cawley says gay and lesbian married couples are now one-step closer to equality.

“Marriage is not the only issue for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We still have issues around health care, around equality and housing and in fair treatment for our elders. We still have issues around poverty and issues around youth and homelessness and things like that,” Cawley says.

Tonight, the Wisconsin ACLU and LGBT leaders will host a legal debriefing. They want to help sort through for people, what the Supreme Court ruling means in Wisconsin.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.