Marriage Meddlers Lawsuit Makes News (March 2000)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s federal lawsuit challenging a Wisconsin budget authorization of $210,000 for a coordinator to assist “clergy to develop community-wide standards of marriages” has been in the headlines since its Dec. 20 filing. “Thompson fights for marriage law” was the page one story in the Wisconsin State Journal on Feb. 10 by Cary Segall, reporting that Attorney General Jim Doyle has refused to defend the unconstitutional budget item.

The story reported that Doyle wrote Gov. Tommy Thompson: “Although strengthening marriage is a secular purpose, this law has as its only purpose, the strengthening of religious marriages. It is in the state’s best interest to conclude this litigation as quickly and inexpensively as possible by conceding that the legislation is unconstitutional.” “Marriage-saving measure sows discord in capital” was the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Feb. 11 headline about the development.

Sentinel-Journal reporter Jim Stingl’s story began: “Sounding like a quarrelsome married couple, the attorney general’s and governor’s offices are battling. . .” After Doyle’s office decided in late January not to defend the item, Gov. Thompson hired the Milwaukee law firm of Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren, Norris & Rieselbach at $165 an hour. According to campaign records, members of that law firm (not including spouses) have donated nearly $60,000 to Gov. Thompson’s last two gubernatorial campaigns. “Marriage lawyer likes hot seat” was the Feb. 12-13 story by Mike Miller which ran in the Capital Times, a Madison daily.

Miller revealed that Daniel Kelly, the lawyer chosen by Thompson to defend the lawsuit, is a graduate from Regent University Law School, which was founded by TV evangelist Pat Robertson. The law school was not fully accredited when Kelly graduated from it. Its mission statement says it is a “graduate institution that exists to bring glory to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.” The Capital Times followed that expos? with a column by Matt Pommer (Feb. 14), “Marriage aid has unholy cost.” The column recapped the six previous occasions Attorney General Doyle has refused to defend a state law or actions by Gov. Thompson, most infamously the governor’s decision to defend a lawsuit by the Foundation challenging a Good Friday holiday over Doyle’s objections. The Foundation won, Thompson lost. Pommer wrote the “score in the courts is Doyle 6, Thompson 0.”

The budget item was introduced by Wisconsin’s Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen. After the Foundation filed its lawsuit and Doyle refused to defend it, Jensen got the Wisconsin Assembly on Jan. 30 to approve a so-called “budget correction” which removes the references to clergy. The “budget correction” has been placed in a small omnibus bill, AB 655, with other technical budget corrections, which as of press-time is in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and Government Operations chaired by Wis. Senator Robert W. Wirch (D-22nd Senate District, Kenosha). Wrote Pommer: “Jensen wants to be the next governor of Wisconsin, and his ‘marriage project’ seems to be a bid to attract religious conservatives. “. . . If ‘communitywide standards’ for marriage are needed, the clergy can probably handle that task without a state employee coordinating the effort. Or, if a coordinator is needed, it’s likely some denomination can spare some help to focus the group.” “Butt out, marriage meddler” was the critical headline of a column by Joel McNally, a Milwaukee journalist, appearing in the Capital Times on Feb. 19-20, also taking Jensen to task.

The $210,000 for the budgeted item comes from the federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families, meant to help poor women with childcare and other important needs. Jensen’s statements and press release about the coordinator position last fall clearly showed his intent is to push the Christian Marriage Savers program. However, he now says the reference only to “clergy” was an “error.” Revealing the intimacy between Marriage Savers and the State of Wisconsin is the fact that the Marriage Savers website announced the developments over Doyle, and Jensen’s “budget correction” attempt, before anyone else knew about it. Doyle’s letter to the Governor is considered confidential, and has not been publicly released.

An article, “Wisconsin Law Funds Community Marriage Policies,” quotes from Doyle’s confidential letter to the governor, and also reveals the date upon which it was sent (Jan. 27). Another Marriage Savers website article, “Welfare Funds Can Pay for Marital Reform,” urges that the “whopping surplus of $7.5 billion of TANF funds” be used not to create daycare centers and job training but to “encourage welfare recipients to consider marriage.” Writes Marriage Savers founder Michael J. McManus in his “President’s Column:” “every state should tap TANF funds to create Community Marriage Policies? as Wisconsin is doing. . . . Sidestep the legal hornet’s nest and follow the example of Oklahoma, appropriating TANF funds without authorizing legislation.”(!) Page maintained by Dan Barker and hosted by the Internet Infidels.

Freedom From Religion Foundation