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.


June 18th, 2009

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

Lindoro Almaviva

June 18th, 2009

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.


June 19th, 2009

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


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”.


June 19th, 2009

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

Timothy Kincaid

June 19th, 2009


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


June 22nd, 2009

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.

Leave A Comment

All comments reflect the opinions of commenters only. They are not necessarily those of anyone associated with Box Turtle Bulletin. Comments are subject to our Comments Policy.

(Required, never shared)

PLEASE NOTE: All comments are subject to our Comments Policy.


Latest Posts


Another Temporary Hiatus

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1971: Minnesota Couple Stake Claim To First American Same-Sex Marriage

Today's Agenda Is Brought To You By...

Today In History, 1954: "Perverts Vanish" From Miami

Born On This Day, 1907: Evelyn Hooker

Born On This Day, 1925: Fr. John J. McNeill

Featured Reports

What Are Little Boys Made Of?

In this original BTB Investigation, we unveil the tragic story of Kirk Murphy, a four-year-old boy who was treated for “cross-gender disturbance” in 1970 by a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. This story is a stark reminder that there are severe and damaging consequences when therapists try to ensure that boys will be boys.

Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate

When we first reported on three American anti-gay activists traveling to Kampala for a three-day conference, we had no idea that it would be the first report of a long string of events leading to a proposal to institute the death penalty for LGBT people. But that is exactly what happened. In this report, we review our collection of more than 500 posts to tell the story of one nation’s embrace of hatred toward gay people. This report will be updated continuously as events continue to unfold. Check here for the latest updates.

Paul Cameron’s World

In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “[Paul] Cameron’s ‘science’ echoes Nazi Germany.” What the SPLC didn”t know was Cameron doesn’t just “echo” Nazi Germany. He quoted extensively from one of the Final Solution’s architects. This puts his fascination with quarantines, mandatory tattoos, and extermination being a “plausible idea” in a whole new and deeply disturbing light.

From the Inside: Focus on the Family’s “Love Won Out”

On February 10, I attended an all-day “Love Won Out” ex-gay conference in Phoenix, put on by Focus on the Family and Exodus International. In this series of reports, I talk about what I learned there: the people who go to these conferences, the things that they hear, and what this all means for them, their families and for the rest of us.

Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

At last, the truth can now be told.

Using the same research methods employed by most anti-gay political pressure groups, we examine the statistics and the case studies that dispel many of the myths about heterosexuality. Download your copy today!

And don‘t miss our companion report, How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps.

Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Anti-gay activists often charge that gay men and women pose a threat to children. In this report, we explore the supposed connection between homosexuality and child sexual abuse, the conclusions reached by the most knowledgeable professionals in the field, and how anti-gay activists continue to ignore their findings. This has tremendous consequences, not just for gay men and women, but more importantly for the safety of all our children.

Straight From The Source: What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Anti-gay activists often cite the “Dutch Study” to claim that gay unions last only about 1½ years and that the these men have an average of eight additional partners per year outside of their steady relationship. In this report, we will take you step by step into the study to see whether the claims are true.

The FRC’s Briefs Are Showing

Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council submitted an Amicus Brief to the Maryland Court of Appeals as that court prepared to consider the issue of gay marriage. We examine just one small section of that brief to reveal the junk science and fraudulent claims of the Family “Research” Council.

Daniel Fetty Doesn’t Count

Daniel FettyThe FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics aren’t as complete as they ought to be, and their report for 2004 was no exception. In fact, their most recent report has quite a few glaring holes. Holes big enough for Daniel Fetty to fall through.