On September 17, 2014, four couples, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and the law firm of Mayer Brown filed a federal court challenge to Wisconsin's refusal to recognize their marriages and the marriages of other same-sex couples that took place between June 6 and 13. The following couples are plaintiffs in the suit.
Kiersten and Angie Bloechl-Karlsen
Lifelong Wisconsinites, Kiersten and Angie met as students at UW Oshkosh. Angela was born and raised in Manawa, a small town about 45 miles northwest of Oshkosh that’s best known for its rodeo, and Kiersten grew up in Burlington. Since meeting and falling in love, they have built a life together and started a family in Oshkosh. Kiersten and Angie are the proud parents of their two year old daughter, Maiken, and they are planning to grow their family and have more children soon.
They both want to raise their children in a loving, faithful community, which is why they started attending a local Lutheran church when Angie was pregnant with Maiken. Even though they are the only same-sex couple in the congregation, they feel welcomed and supported just as any other family at the church.
In addition to their busy and fulfilling life as parents, both Kiersten and Angie work outside the home. Kiersten works in Appleton as a corporate trainer for staff serving people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in residential facilities. Angie is the Chief of Operations at Valley Pest Control, a family business that her father and uncle started together over 30 years ago. For both of them, contributing to their community and supporting their family are top priorities.
Being recognized as a family is important to the couple. Before the birth of their daughter, they took each other’s last names in hopes that hospitals and schools would understand them both as Maiken’s parents. Kiersten wants to be able to adopt Maiken as a second parent, but currently Wisconsin law prevents her from being recognized as Maiken’s mom. Now all she has is a “babysitter card” – a medical treatment consent for minors card that parents in Wisconsin sign and give to childcare providers to show that they have parental consent to seek emergency treatment for a child when the parents aren’t immediately available. Kiersten and Angie hope that Wisconsin will recognize them as married and treat their family just like any other family in their home state.
Like many Wisconsinites, Kiersten and Angie dreamed of the day they would get married in their home state, making a life-long commitment in front of friends and family. They were overjoyed by Judge Crabb’s ruling that struck down the discriminatory ban that kept them from getting married, and rushed to the courthouse to get married just before the decision was stayed and marriage for same sex couples was put on hold.
Kiersten said, “If we’d had time to plan, we would have done it all differently. I wouldn’t have gotten married at 4pm on a Friday in my work polo! But it all turned out really nice in the end.”
Jim and Alex Langreder
Jim and Alex are lifelong Wisconsinites from Pembine and Delafield. For both of them, their deep Christian faith taught to them by their families has always been very important in their lives. This shared faith has been a critical part of their relationship; they met while Alex was a student at a nearby Bible College, and Jim was managing the local Christian bookstore. After dating for six months, they fell in love and knew they were right for each other.
Jim and Alex always wanted to have kids, and decided early on that they would like to adopt from foster care so that they could help children in need. 10 years ago, they began fostering children, and soon they adopted two special needs children from the foster care system. Elliot, who is 8 years old, has autism, and Belle, who is 4 years old, has other behavioral issues. While parenting special needs children can be a challenge, they feel blessed to be able to provide a loving, supportive home to their family.
Jim and Alex are involved in their community. Jim is music director for their church, Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Oconomowoc, which they started attending in 2004. Alex owns a local business, ElleBelle Salon, named after their kids, which he opened in May 2013.
When the court decision allowing same-sex couples to marry was announced, Jim and Alex talked about it all weekend. They were overjoyed to have the opportunity to marry in their home state, so on Monday morning, they loaded the kids into the car, invited their pastor, and were among the first in line at the County Courthouse. Receiving their marriage license was an amazing moment. After so many years, they were finally able to officially make their commitment to each other and their family official.
With deep ties in their community, they want to be recognized as married just like any other couple, and they both want be recognized as legal parents to their children. For now, Jim adopted Elliot and Alex adopted Belle. When they adopted Elliot, they applied for co-guardianship. However, a family court judge deemed that the couple was essentially “just dating,” and denied their request. With their current arrangement, they worry that their family might be split apart if something happened to either one of them. Marriage would give Jim and Alex peace of mind in knowing that, no matter what, they will be recognized as the committed family they are.
Nathan Walker and Lee Laufer
Nathan and Lee met in the early 1990s and were friends for years before they started dating. Nathan is from Chicago and was stationed with the Marines in Milwaukee when the two met. Lee is from West Bend, about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee. They have been together for 19 years. Together, they have built a life and a home in Bayside, Wisconsin.
Nathan served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1983 until his honorable discharge in 1994. Through his service, he earned a Navy Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and several Meritorious Letters of Commendations. “I enjoyed being a Marine and I really miss it,” he says. Since retiring from the Marines, Nathan now works at a small investment management firm. Lee works as a technology analyst for a Fortune 500 bank, where he has been for the last 12 years. Lee’s employer, like the majority of Fortune 500 Companies, provides domestic partner benefits and recognizes their marriage, making the case that what is good for their employees is good for business.
The day they finally got married started out like any day -- Nathan went to work while Lee worked from home. While Nathan was at the office, he heard a court decision on same sex marriage was expected any minute. “I got home from work and before I knew it, I was looking for my birth certificate!” says Nathan. The Milwaukee County Courthouse stayed open until 9pm that night, and Nathan and Lee were #18 in line. They were happy to make their public commitment to each other and were excited that they could finally unite their lives the way they had always hoped.
Both Nathan and Lee’s families are very supportive of their relationship, and want them to be able to share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage. Nathan called his mother the day after the wedding in tears. “Why are you crying?” she asked. “Because I’m so happy!” he told her. Similarly, Lee’s 90-year-old mother was overjoyed that she had lived to see the day her grandson could marry the person he loves in their home state.
Even though Nathan and Lee were able to marry in Wisconsin, they still have concerns about the future. If something were to happen or if one of them got sick, they want to be recognized as a married couple, as each other’s family. When death separates them, they want to be buried together in a veteran’s cemetery, just like any other married military couple. If the state of Wisconsin does not recognize them as a legally married couple, they could be denied the recognition of marriage in life’s most critical times.
Stacie Christian and Julie Tetzlaff
Lifelong Wisconsinites, Stacie and Julie met when they were working together. Julie was born and raised in Green Bay and Stacie grew up in Eagle River. Julie is a Gulf War veteran and was a First Lieutenant in the Army, then served in the reserves and received two commendation medals for her service to our country. Julie now serves as the Director of the Adult Program at the Cerebral Palsy Center in Green Bay, where she has been for 20 years. Stacie is a lecturer for University of Wisconsin – Green Bay in Human Development/ Psychology where she has been for 21 years. They attend the United Church of Christ Union Congregational, a church that strongly values inclusion, non-judgment, and welcoming all to participate in their faithful community.
Julie and Stacie’s family, both near and far, have been very supportive of their relationship and want to see them happily married. They have two adult daughters from Stacie’s previous marriage, both of whom have one child. One of their daughters lives in Milwaukee and has a 6-month-old daughter, and the other lives near them in Green Bay and has a 9-year-old son.
When they heard marriage licenses would be available to same sex couples on June 9, Stacie and Julie rushed to the county courthouse with their younger daughter. They arrived at 8am and county staff said they weren’t doing marriages just yet and told all the couples who had gathered to go home. Some of the couples, including Stacie and Julie, decided to stay at the courthouse to see what happened. Two hours later the county staffers said they would indeed issue licenses to same-sex couples, and they could also obtain a waiver so they could get married that same day. As they made their public commitment to each other on the courthouse lawn, people were beeping their horns and some got out to watch the ceremonies. It was an amazing experience for the longtime couple to be able to get married and partake in such a joyous moment in Wisconsin’s history.
Marriage and family matter to Stacie and Julie, and they want to be treated just like any other married couple in Wisconsin. The daily indignities of being treated as housemates, rather than a family, can really take their toll on the two. Stacie is currently working on her Ph. D., and Julie's company does not provide domestic partner benefits. This means that Stacie has to work full time while completing her doctorate in order to keep herself fully insured, but this would not be the case if they were a straight couple. Marriage would give this longtime couple the peace of mind and security of being recognized as a family.