Wisconsin Likely to Have Domestic Partnerships
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle's plan for giving same-sex couples certain legal protections may not violate the state's gay marriage ban. This would make Wisconsin the first state with a same-sex marriage and "substantially similar relationships" ban to allow domestic partnerships for gay couples.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle's plan for giving same-sex couples certain legal protections may not violate the state's gay marriage ban. This option would make Wisconsin the first state with a same-sex marriage and "substantially similar relationships" ban to allow domestic partnerships for gay couples.
The plan could provide registered couples 43 rights, included are the rights to hospital visitations, end-of-life decisions, and inheriting assets.
There are five states with legal gay marriage, and six additional states recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. None of these states granted protections following a voters outlaw of all same-sex relationships "substantially similar" to marriage, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Doyle and other supporters say its about fairness, thus not conflicting with the amendment to the constitution from 2006, which was voter approved by nearly 60 percent. Opponents, like Wisconsin Family Council, are preparing for a legal battle saying that there is a conflict.
The nonpartisan Legislative Council's memo states the plan should win a challenge, as it does not give "comprehensive, core aspects of the legal status of marriage to same-sex couples." These aspects include divorce and sharing marital property. The plan would not give rights to domestic partners to adopt children or file taxes jointly.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who is also a Legislature's budget committee co-chair, said the plan would be approved by the panel next week. Pocan is openly gay, married his partner in Canada in 2006, and would register if the plan makes it through the Legislature.
“This memo backs up what we’ve been saying all along, and I think it’s especially strong to have an independent, nonpartisan agency state the same,” he said. “This is not substantially similar to marriage and it really takes a highly political view to say anything other than that.”
Julaine Appling, CEO of the Wisconsin Family Council, a promoter of the amendment, said her opinion about Doyle's plan being unconstitutional did not change because of the memo. “It’s statewide and it is very marriage-like in its sweep and its intent,” she said. “As it stands now, this would be challengeable in court.”
The amendment was intended to ban civil unions in which same-sex couples were given virtually identical rights as married people, Legislative Council attorney Don Dyke said. He mentioned that at the time, supporters said governments would not be stopped from providing health insurance, retirement and other benefits for same-sex couples that stop short of marriage. Dyke also noted there is no guarantee every judge would agree with how he interpreted it.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced Thursday it will rule if the amendment was put to voters improperly. A lawsuit claims the referendum concluded two separate questions in one vote: whether to ban gay marriage and whether to ban civil unions.
Earlier this week the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the health benefit extension to state employees' domestic partners could eventually cost between $11.3 and $15.9 million each year.
Pocan believes the cost would be lower, and next week his committee would approve the plan, even with Wisconsin's $6.65 billion budget shortfall. He said the lack of benefits for partners will cause too many talented employees to not take jobs in Wisconsin. Appling said approving the plan would be “ridiculous and irresponsible” considering the budget problems.