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Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnerships

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2009

In 2006, voters in Wisconsin passed the following amendment to their state constitution:

Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.

The second part of that amendment effectively bans the creation of civil unions or of domestic partnership agreements that are “identical or substantially similar to that of marriage”. However, as part of the budget process, the State Senate and Assembly have passed language (pdf 1,743 pages), at the request of the Governor, that establishes domestic partnerships within the state.

The domestic partnerships are dissimilar to marriage in that while marriage requires a license and the performance of a specific ceremony, domestic partnerships are recognized by means of a registry:

Under the bill, a domestic partnership may be formed by two individuals who are at least 18 years old, are not married or in another domestic partnership, share a common residence, are not nearer of kin than second cousins, and are members of the same sex.

To form a domestic partnership, the individuals apply for a declaration of domestic partnership to the county clerk of the county in which at least one of them has resided for at least 30 days. Each applicant must submit identification and a certified copy of his or her birth certificate, as well as any other document affecting the domestic partnership status, such as a death certificate or a certificate of termination of domestic partnership. The clerk must then issue a declaration of domestic partnership, which the parties must complete and submit to the register of deeds of the county in which they reside. The register of deeds must record the declaration and send the original to the state registrar of vital statistics.

The domestic partnerships receive certain specific rights which are similar to those granted by marriage:

  • Inheritance Rights:
    • Inherit if intestate or if the will was written before registration
    • Full property interest the decedent had in a home
    • Inherit partner’s interest in a boat
    • The rights to probate court and summary procedures
    • Exemptions for certain personal items and for limited exemptions from the estate’s creditors
    • Inherit wages due from an employer
  • Wrongful death actions and death benefits under workers compensation
  • The right to bar former partners from testifying about private communications
  • Employment Benefits:
    • The right to family leave to care for a domestic partner
    • Pension benefits provided to public employees
    • Fraternal benefit society may provide insurance coverage to domestic partners
    • Local governments may provide health and life insurance for domestic partners
    • Protection in state government employment from arbitrary discrimination based on domestic partner status.
  • Joint tenancy rights in property

While these are far fewer rights than come with marriage, they will not be of insignificant benefit to same-sex Wisconsin couples. The budget has differences between the House and Senate versions which will be hammered out but domestic partnerships are likely to survive and to be signed by Governor Doyle.

Comments

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Jake
June 18th, 2009 | LINK

I’m worried this falls within the “substantially similar” category.

Lindoro Almaviva
June 18th, 2009 | LINK

Of course it does, but it needs to be challenged in court and taken to the District Court of Appeals so the whole amendment is sent to the trash and the people of the state learn once and for all that the “will of the people” does not count in matters of law.

Duncan
June 19th, 2009 | LINK

Whilst I approve of this first step towards marriage, I am nonetheless worried to see legislators flouting their constitution. It would be much better to challenge the amendment directly in referendum.

Timothy Kincaid
June 19th, 2009 | LINK

Duncan,

I was bothered by this step also until I reviewed the variations in anti-gay marriage amendments presented to and voted on by states. There are three:

The first category reserves the word marriage for heterosexuals only. California and Oregon are good examples. Each of these states provides virtually identical rights, responsibilities, and obligations to domestic partners that they do to married couples.

The second category bans marriage and “substantially similar” structures. Wisconsin falls in this category.

The third category, Virginia and Michigan, bans the granting of any rights accompany marriage to any other union.

It would seem that because Wisconsin does not ban all rights whatsoever, that they can grant some without flouting the constitution. The question is where they cross from being specific and limited rights and become “substantially similar”.

occono
June 19th, 2009 | LINK

Oregon’s DPs aren’t as good as California’s.

Timothy Kincaid
June 19th, 2009 | LINK

Occono,

In what way are Oregon’s DPs inferior to California’s?

Robguy
June 22nd, 2009 | LINK

I could tell it was Wisconsin when they felt they needed to specifically list boat inheritance.
I gave up waiting for Wisconsin to come around, I still hope they get there one of these years.

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