Furiously fighting for the freedom to marry

Wisconsin is now the only Great Lakes state where same-sex marriage is a crime punishable by law.

Although not enforced, Wisconsin Statue Statute 765.30 allows a penalty of up to $10,000 and nine months of imprisonment for citizens who enter out-of-state marriage licenses that would not be legally issued in Wisconsin. 

On February 3, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin, and the law firm of Mayer Brown filed a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, as well as the additional harm this legislation creates for the LGBT community.

Meet the couples who are making their moment in LGBT history.

Salud Garcia and Pam Kleiss, Madison

Salud, 50, and Pam, 49, have been together 18 years. They live in Madison with their 12-year old daughter. They met when they were both working for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Pam in Seattle, and Salud in California.

A co-worker of Pam’s, who was also a friend of Salud’s, would forward funny or interesting emails from Salud to Pam. Eventually, Salud met Pam at a meeting in the Seattle office of AARP, and Pam said excitedly, “You’re Salud from the emails!”

Pam recalls: “The moment I met her, I was totally smitten, just whacked out in love.”

Salud says of Pam, “She’s an astonishingly supportive person. You couldn’t ask for a better sidekick in any adventure.”

Later that year, Salud moved to Seattle, and within a few months, she and Pam started seeing each other. In 2001, they decided to have a child, and Pam gave birth to their daughter in October. Their daughter was born 14 weeks early and weighed just over two pounds. She spent the first months of her life in the Neo-natal ICU.

ACLU Salud and PamJust after the birth, Pam also experienced complications, and Salud asked for a family I.D. bracelet that would allow her to enter the NICU and care for their child. A nurse told Salud that those bracelets were only for family. Salud felt as though she was being treated like a stranger to her family at their most vulnerable moment. Pam’s brother-in-law later got the nurse to relent and give Salud a bracelet.

Salud later adopted their daughter in Washington State where second-parent adoption is available. But in the hospital in the early days of her child’s life, Salud realized that if Pam had died during childbirth, Salud could have lost both her partner and her daughter, because the law did not protect her relationships with them.

Pam and Salud describe their daughter as a “normal tween” with an active social life. She is well liked by her teachers, and the only thing that gets her in trouble at school is talking too much. She contracted a hospital-acquired infection when she was just two weeks old that resulted in some physical disabilities. Despite this, their daughter is now an accomplished athlete who Salud describes as a “smart jock.”

As for the law that keeps her parents from getting married, Pam says their daughter “just doesn’t understand why anyone would object to our marriage.”

Pam and Salud have lived in Madison since 2002, and they registered as domestic partners in Wisconsin in 2010. Both have made careers primarily in the not-for-profit sector. Pam works part time as the Executive Director of the Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin (“PSR Wisconsin”). Salud currently works for Alpha Baking Company as merchandiser, but for ten years she worked as a Program Coordinator for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

PSR Wisconsin has been supportive of their relationship, covering half of Pam’s individual health insurance premiums for the past five years, and paying half of the family health insurance plan for six months after Salud left her job in 2013.

When Salud worked for the State Bar and Pam was staying at home taking care of their daughter, Pam became ill. At that time, Pam had a very limited catastrophic health insurance policy that did not pay for regular doctor visits, so she delayed seeking medical care for her symptoms. Had Salud and Pam been a opposite-sex married couple, Pam could have been covered under Salud’s employer-provided health insurance from the State Bar. Salud asked her employer several times whether they would consider providing health benefits to domestic partners, as they did for different-sex spouses. For nearly ten years, the Bar refused to do so. As a result, Salud and Pam had to shoulder the costs of a separate insurance policy and pay out-of-pocket for Pam to address her health needs.

Pam and Salud want to marry so that their relationship and their family will be accorded the same esteem and the same protection that different-sex married couples enjoy. In addition to wanting the public acknowledgment of their commitment that marriage would bring, Pam wants the assurance that the law will always treat her, Salud, and their daughter as the family they are. Pam and Salud could leave the state to marry, and in that way access some of the protections that the federal government provides to same-sex spouses.

But if they do, they face the possibility of arrest and prosecution in Wisconsin, and they feel that is much too great a risk for them to take. Only marriage in Wisconsin can give them the full range of protections that married couples enjoy and the peace of mind of knowing that they are free from the risk of criminal proceedings.

They are entitled to both.


Johannes Wallmann and Keith Borden, Madison

Johannes, 39, and Keith, 40, have been together more than 15 years. Johannes is an Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a professional jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. Keith is a classically trained singer and a yoga instructor.

Keith and Johannes met in New York City on Halloween in 1998. Johannes was playing in a band for a concert that Keith had produced. Somehow, Johannes got the idea that he was supposed to wear a costume, and he showed up to perform wearing a sailor suit. He was the only person in costume, and Keith says, “He really stuck out!” They began dating a few weeks later and have been together ever since.

keithJohannes“The thing I recognized very early on was the ease with which we connected. There wasn’t a lot of uncertainty,” says Keith. “It seemed so natural, like this relationship was the puzzle piece we needed to complete this picture of what our lives were going to be.”

Johannes says that the couple has found “a great mixture of living intertwined lives but giving each other lots of space and freedom to pursue individual interests as well.” Johannes says that Keith is “incredibly kind. He inspires me to try to be a kinder, better person.”

Johannes was born in Germany. He moved to Canada with his mother when he was 12 and became a Canadian citizen. He grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and after attending college in the United States, he moved to New York, where he met Keith. Keith was born and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. He went to college at DePauw in Indiana and then moved to New York City to study with a voice teacher.

Keith and Johannes lived together in New York for a while when they were first a couple, but Johannes only had a temporary visa. Concerned about the stability of their future together, the couple decided to move to Canada, where Johannes is a citizen and where he was able to sponsor Keith for permanent residency. “That was a huge thing, to ask Keith to leave his country so we could be together,” says Johannes. Johannes loved Keith, and Canada allows same-sex couples to marry, so Johannes proposed.

The couple thought long and hard about where to hold the ceremony. They considered Toronto, where they intended to move, but eventually decided on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Johannes had grown up there and had family there. He and Keith had visited Johannes’ parents there many times and considered the island a special place. And it would make a beautiful destination wedding for their friends.

In May 2007, Johannes and Keith were in Toronto looking for an apartment with the intention of moving there in June, when Johannes received a call offering him his first tenure track job teaching music at California State University, East Bay. As it happened, the yoga studio where Keith worked in New York was opening a Bay Area facility where Keith could find a job. They decided that Johannes should accept the position and that they would move to California.

Even though their plans to live in Canada had changed, they went ahead with their wedding there, because they had planned so much for it at that point and really wanted to be married. They were married there on August 11, 2007. “When we got married we didn’t think of it as a political or legal act,” says Johannes. “It was just that we thought we’d be living somewhere where it would be recognized, and we loved each other.”

Johannes and Keith loved their wedding. Johannes’ grandfather, a retired minister, performed the religious parts of the ceremony, and a Canadian Marriage Commissioner officiated the civil elements. Johannes’ best man was the musician whose band Johannes was playing in the night that he and Keith met, and he and another friend played a version of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”—arranged by Johannes—as Keith and Johannes walked up the aisle as a married couple. Johannes’s father, who died a few years later, was able to attend.

At first, Johannes and Keith’s marriage was not considered valid in California. But that changed when the California Supreme Court legalized marriage for same-sex couples in May 2008. Then California voters enacted Proposition 8, excluding same-sex couples from marrying in California, creating some uncertainty about whether Johannes and Keith’s out-of-state marriage would continue to be recognized. The California legislature acted, though, and affirmed the validity of out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples in California.

As a result, Johannes and Keith’s marriage was legally recognized in California from May 2008 until they left the state more than four years later. And, of course, California’s marriage ban was later overturned entirely, and same-sex couples again enjoy the freedom to marry there.

Until they moved to Wisconsin in 2012, Johannes and Keith lived as a married couple under the laws of California. They filed joint state tax returns, Keith was covered as a spouse on Johannes’s health insurance, and, had it been necessary, either one of them could have made critical health decisions on the other’s behalf. They also bought a car, some furniture, and accumulated other possessions that were all considered marital property in California. They decided to put off making wills, because they knew they could rely on California law to protect the surviving spouse’s interest in their property if anything had happened to one of them.

But just as importantly, Keith and Johannes could call their relationship a marriage and have everyone understand the seriousness of their love and commitment, as well as the permanence of their relationship. In California, Keith and Johannes’ decision to build their lives and their futures together was accorded the dignity and status that it deserved.

When they decided to come to Wisconsin in 2012 so that Johannes could take the position at UW-Madison, Johannes and Keith knew they were moving to a state that would not recognize their marriage. They still see themselves as married. However, the State of Wisconsin treats their relationship as though it ceased to exist for legal purposes, even though they had built a life in reliance on the protections and obligations that marriage provides.

Had they been a different-sex couple, Keith and Johannes could have counted on the continuity and stability that state and federal law provides a different- sex married couple when they move from state to state. Instead, Wisconsin’s constitutional marriage ban has simply erased Keith and Johannes’ commitment to each other as far as the State is concerned and even erased certain federal law protections that are available only to couples whose marriages are legally recognized by the home state. No different-sex couple would ever be subjected to such Johannes and Keith have not registered for a domestic partnership in Wisconsin.

Johannes and Keith feel that, for them, it would be a step backwards to sign up for a legal status that is so much less than being married when they are already married.


Charvonne Kemp and Marie Carlson, Milwaukee

chavonneCharvonne, 43, and Marie, 48, have been together more than seven years and raised two sons together.

Charvonne is an accountant and Marie is a raw material handler for a manufacturing company. They both very much want to get married, and they want to do it in the state they call home.

“We’ve thought about going to Massachusetts or Canada, but we decided that if nobody else is going to recognize it, it doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean,” Marie says. “I want to call Charvonne my wife and have people understand what that means.”

Charvonne agrees: “I’m old fashioned in that way. I think a couple that commits to each other and lives together should be married. I love her with all my heart and soul, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”

Charvonne and Marie are involved parents. Together they’ve raised Alexander, 21, and Christopher, 11, who are Charvonne’s sons from previous relationships. Charvonne and Marie were active in the PTA at Christopher’s school, holding offices and Charvonne serving twice on search committees to pick new principals. The boys would like to see them get married. At the ceremony, Alexander is going to be Marie’s “man of honor.”

Marie’s employer doesn’t provide domestic partner benefits, so last year, when Charvonne’s mother died, Marie had to use vacation time to attend the funeral. Charvonne’s company does provide some benefits, but she’s pretty sure that if Marie or she ever becomes seriously ill, they wouldn’t be able to take family medical leave.

“I feel that the commitment I’ve made to Charvonne and the boys, and the one they’ve made to me, should be allowed to be legal,” Marie says. “I want to proudly walk with my family. I want to do it the right way and the right way is marriage.”


Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning, Madison

photo (3)

Judi and Katy

Judi, 53, and Katy, 51, met in college at the Girl Scout National Center in Wyoming. They were part of a group of women from the Midwest who would get together outside of summer camp.

“We were interested in each other, but fate would have it that one of us wouldn’t be free to date,” Judi says. “After four years we finally started dating long distance, and eventually we both wound up in Madison.”

In July, they’ll celebrate their 25th anniversary. Both work at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where Judi is Director of Human Resources and Diversity, and Katy is Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies. They love boating, kayaking, traveling, and riding their BMW motorcycles – which, Katy says, “are quite different from Harleys!”

After Judi and Katy had been together 15 years, Judi’s family insisted they have a ceremony to recognize and celebrate their commitment like a wedding. They also became domestic partners in 2009. But a domestic partnership fails to grant the same rights, let alone societal status, as marriage.

In 2002, Katy had a seizure while the couple was traveling. Although Katy and Judi had drawn up health care power-of-attorney papers, they didn’t have a copy of the document with them. As a result, hospital staff provided emergency care and deferred any further health care decisions to Katy’s brother, who was her closest living relative. And although Katy had trouble concentrating and responding after the seizure, medical providers continued to question her, failing to address any questions to Judi.

“If we were legally married, we’d know we have the same protections as other couples,” Judi says. “We would have property, visitation, and other rights. We wouldn’t have to wonder what was covered if one of us is ill or dies.”

“We want to know that if someone is in the hospital, we can see each other and have the right to make decisions for each other,” Katy says.

“Judi is the love of my life, and we’ve been together in sickness and in health. We want recognition of that.”

Kami and Karina

Kami and Karina


Kami Young and Karina Willes, West Milwaukee

Kami, 36, and Karina, 44, have been together 13 years. They met a few minutes after midnight at a New Year’s Eve party on January 1, 2001. They went on their first date 10 days later.

At the beginning, Karina didn’t expect their relationship to last. “We were 30 and 22 when we met, but Kami already owned her own home, had a great job, and was fully supporting herself. In a lot of ways she was more mature when we first met than I was!”

Kami says that Karina “is everything I’m not. She’s the talker, I’m not. She’s smart in ways that I’m not, I’m smart in ways that she’s not. We balance each other out.”

Kami and Karina are both animal lovers, and they live in West Milwaukee with their dogs and cat. Kami works as a training specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin where she’s been employed for the past 11 years. Karina is a senior project manager in the technology department at Foley and Lardner LLP, a major law firm with offices throughout the country. She is also working on her Ph.D. in communications, with a focus on LGBT issues in health communication.

They registered as domestic partners on August 14, 2009. Kami and Karina were legally married in Minnesota in December 2013. It was an intimate wedding, with just their closest friends in attendance in a beautiful, historic courtroom in the town of Winona.

Karina cried all through the ceremony. “I just never thought this would ever happen in my lifetime. You get so used to being a second-class citizen that when you’re not anymore, it’s overwhelming.”

Kami and Karina are starting a family now, with Kami due to deliver their daughter on April 3. Kami has always wanted a child, but Karina only realized in the last few years that having children was really important to her. Despite having two people ready and eager to welcome her, love her, and care for her, when Kami and Karina’s daughter is born only Kami will be recognized as her parent.In fact, as far as the law is concerned, Karina and the baby will be strangers.

In contrast, if Kami and Karina’s marriage were recognized, Karina would automatically be recognized as the baby’s parent. And although adoption should be unnecessary if Kami and Karina’s marriage were recognized, Wisconsin law does not allow Karina to secure her parental rights through a stepparent adoption. Nor will Wisconsin allow Karina to take advantage of the second-parent adoption process available in many other states.

Kami and Karina will be deprived of access to the same legal protections of their parental relationship with their child that are available to married couples, for no other reason than that they are the same sex.


Roy Badger and Garth Wangemann, Milwaukee

Garth Wangemann and Roy Badger (2)

Garth and Roy

Roy, 56, and Garth, 58, have been together 37 years.

They met through mutual friends when they were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and got together on Election Day in November 1976. “Garth voted Carter and I voted Ford,” Roy recalls. “I was really rooting for Betty.”

Roy, who’s lived in Wisconsin since age 12, has worked as an editor at UWM for 32 years. Garth, a native Wisconsinite, was laid off last spring from his customer service position, but is temping for his old employer as he looks for a new job. The couple attends a United Church of Christ church and has two dogs, Daisy and Winston.

“We have a lot in common, and we always have a lot to talk about,” Garth says. “Roy is very gentle and giving, and he’s always been very honest and forthright.” Adds Roy: “Garth has a terrific heart.”

They had a church commitment ceremony in 2009 with only a couple of friends, their pastor and his wife. Looking back on it, Roy says, “it’s bittersweet because it felt like something we were doing in secret.”

A few years ago, Garth was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to have most of his right lung removed. At the suggestion of Garth’s surgeon, they had papers drawn up, granting Roy power of attorney. Following Garth’s surgery in August 2011, he had a medical emergency, and his doctors put him into a medically induced coma to allow his body to stabilize. Garth’s coma lasted more than three weeks.

During that time, Roy included Garth’s father in meetings with the medical team to discuss his treatment. The surgeon felt confident Garth would recover, and he was right. Today Garth is still living cancer-free. But Garth and Roy later discovered that while Garth was in the coma, his father tried to override Roy’s power of attorney to take Garth off life support. Garth was so hurt and upset that he no longer speaks to his father.

“What upset me most wasn’t that he wanted to take me off life support,” Garth says. “What hurt the most was that my father still didn’t see Roy as my spouse after all this time.”

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf, Eau Claire

Carol, 60, and Virginia, 74, both grew up in Kansas and moved to Wisconsin together in 1977. Carol worked as an elections administrator and city clerk, and is now retired. Virginia is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister and also a professor emeritus of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where she worked 24 years. They live in Eau Claire with their border collie/Australian shepherd mix, Z.


Carol and Virginia

Carol and Virginia have been together 38 years, since their very first date in 1975. They were the first couple to join the Eau Claire domestic partner registry in 2009, and got married on their anniversary in December by a judge in Minnesota. As Virginia puts it, “We’ve been inching towards matrimony for 38 years!”

Carol and Virginia raised a son and daughter together – Virginia’s children from a previous relationship – and now have four grandchildren. Their granddaughters, in particular, very much want their marriage to be recognized in Wisconsin. Recently Carol and Virginia took Samantha, 16, and Megan, 13, to a friend’s wedding in Minneapolis, which Virginia officiated.

“They were really moved and talked a lot about it afterward,” Carol says. “It’s important to them that their grandmothers’ love is recognized in Wisconsin through marriage.”

ACLU-heart-Freedom-to-Marry (1)Carol and Virginia routinely have been denied benefits afforded to legally married couples. While Carol worked for the City of Eau Claire, she was denied family medical leave many times when Virginia had surgeries, illnesses and injuries. They’ve even been denied a family membership at a local health club. “The protections and benefits we’re missing out on are still really important to us,” Virginia says.

Carol adds: “The main reason I want to marry Virginia is that it would be an affirmation of our relationship and our family.”

This year, PrideFest Milwaukee proudly honors the ACLU of Wisconsin as our Plus One community partner.  

By adding just $1 to your ticket purchase, you can support the critical battle for marriage equality in our home state.


  1. Isn’t there a petition to get this passed in WI? If not, we need to get one going. Get with it WI! Times have changed. Equality for all!!!