Wis. Domestic Partnership Law Approved in Budget Process

July 21, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Despite having a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin now officially recognizes domestic partnerships among same-sex couples.

The domestic partner proposal, which was included in the state budget Governor Jim Doyle presented in February, went through the budget process essentially unchanged with Doyle pushing for committed couples to get some basic rights, Doyle spokesman Lee Sensenbrenner said in a statement, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Under the budget provision, same-sex couples would be offered 43 of the more than 200 rights and benefits extended to married couples, such as allowing domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions, and have hospital visitation rights, the Journal Sentinel said.

Starting August 3, couples will be able to apply for a declaration of domestic partnership in their home counties and can dissolve such partnerships through a termination process at the county clerk’s office.

The budget also included domestic partner benefits for state employees, which University of Wisconsin-Madison officials have said would help them attract and keep top talent. The estimated cost of benefits for domestic partners of state employees is $4.7 million to $6.7 million a year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the news report said.

Those who oppose the law contend the creation of domestic partner benefits violates the constitutional amendment on marriage because it creates a legal status that approximates marriage.  Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, which advocated for the marriage amendment as the Family Research Institute, called the budget provision an “end run” around the constitutional amendment. Appling said her group is moving forward with plans for a challenge.

“In scope and in intent, this is very marriage-like and shows that it’s an attempt to overturn the will of the people,” Appling told the newspaper.