Madison. Johannes, 39, and Keith, 40, have been together for 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. They 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. Johannes says, “Keith is incredibly kind. He inspires me to try to be a kinder, better person.”
Johannes, born in Germany, grew up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia but has been in the United States since college. Keith was born and raised in Evanston, Illinois. They 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. Canada allows same-sex couples to marry, so Johannes proposed and Keith accepted.
While they were apartment-hunting for the planned 2007 move to Canada, Johannes was offered his first tenure-track position at a university in California. The yoga studio where Keith worked in New York was opening a Bay Area facility where Keith could work. So Johannes and Keith abandoned the plan to move north of the border, but went ahead with their wedding in August because they’d planned so much at that point and really wanted to be married.
While there was some uncertainty due to the passage of Proposition 8 and litigation about the proposition’s legality, Johannes and Keith’s marriage was legally recognized by the state for more than four years of their time in 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.
When they decided to move to Wisconsin in 2012 so that Johannes could teach at UW-Madison, Johannes and Keith realized they were moving to a state that would not recognize their marriage. The State of Wisconsin treats their relationship as though it ceased to exist for state law purposes. But Johannes and Keith have never wavered in their belief in their marriage. Keith says, “From the beginning with Johannes, everything seemed so natural, like this relationship was the puzzle piece we needed to complete this picture of what our lives were going to be.”