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Wisconsin Places Domestic Partnerships For Same-Sex Couples In Budget

May 22, 2009

It is time…….

….though to hear the GOP talk there is never a good time to enact civil rights and equality into law.

The Joint Finance Committee extended limited legal protections through domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.

The committee approved domestic partnerships and the extension of benefits to domestic partners of state employees on a 12-4 party-line vote.

Under the proposal, the state would extend to same-sex couples 43 of the more than 200 rights and benefits given to married couples under the law, such as allowing domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions and add health care coverage.

Republicans said they objected because of the extra cost to the state, which is facing a $6.6 billion deficit.  Civil rights has a price tag?

Such benefits would cost an estimated $4.7 million to $6.7 million a year of state tax dollars, according to the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. But local communities that already provide domestic partner benefits have reported lower-than-expected costs, the bureau said.

“This could be a good idea but . . . this isn’t the right time to even consider it,” What she meant to say is that there is never a good time to grant rights to gay people…..what will they say back in her district if she stood up for what was just?…..said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). “How are we going to say we’re going to expand benefits for anyone right now and have the taxpayers pay for that when we’re all struggling to make ends meet?”  Or we could save even more money and take the same rights away from heterosexuals…..what a savings that would be for the state.

Committee co-chair Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), who is gay, said it’s a matter of fairness to provide basic legal protections and will also help the state in the long run. University of Wisconsin-Madison is the only Big Ten school that doesn’t offer domestic partner benefits, and when researchers and others at the University of Wisconsin System leave, they take valuable research and grant dollars with them, he said.

“Most reasonable, compassionate people in the state of Wisconsin think it makes sense to at least allow basic protections to same sex couples,” Pocan said.

But some opponents have argued such domestic partnerships could violate the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed by 59% of voters in 2006.

The amendment banned same-sex marriage as well as any legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage, such as a civil union. Amendment supporters have said Doyle’s proposal too closely resembles marriage and wouldn’t withstand a constitutional challenge.

At the request of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state Legislative Council reviewed the proposal and determined the domestic partnerships wouldn’t create a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage because it wouldn’t include some core aspects of marriage.

As part of its action, the committee approved a public policy statement that the Legislature finds it to be in the state’s best interest to create domestic partnerships and that they’re not substantially similar to marriage or inconsistent with the constitutional amendment.

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