Johannes, 39, and Keith, 40, have been together more than 15 years. Johannes is a music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a professional jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. Keith is a classically trained singer and 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.
“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, who was born in Germany, grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. 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, a Canadian citizen, 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.
In 2007, Johannes and Keith were in Toronto looking for an apartment with the intention of moving there, when Johannes received a call offering him his first tenure-track job teaching music in northern California. As it happened, the yoga studio where Keith worked in New York was opening a Bay Area facility. 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 and really wanted to be married. They were married on Vancouver Island 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.”
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 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 move 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.
CLICK HERE to sign the pledge supporting marriage for same-sex couples in Wisconsin.