UPDATE: Domestic Partnership Law

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Updated Thursday, July 23, 2009 --- 10:51 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Members of a social conservative group are asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to invalidate the state's new domestic partnership law.

Lawyers representing three board members of Wisconsin Family Action filed the lawsuit on Thursday directly with the state's highest court.

The lawsuit claims the law allowing gay and lesbian couples to form domestic partnerships violates the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed the law as part of the state budget last month.

Starting Aug. 3, same-sex couples would be able to register with their counties to receive dozens of the same rights and legal protections as married couples.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2009 -- 5;15pm
By Zac Schultz

Madison: Governor Doyle's biennial budget proposal contained some big numbers; $2.2 billion in cuts to state services. $2.1 billion in federal stimulus money. $1.4 billion in new taxes, including a 1% increase on the highest earners.

But one of the more controversial proposals would extend legal rights and benefits to gay couples in Wisconsin.

In November of 2006, 1.1 million Wisconsinites voted to give Jim Doyle a second term as Wisconsin governor. That same night, 1.2 million people approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and anything substantially similar.

Tuesday night Doyle decided to test the limits of the amendment when he proposed extending certain legal rights to gay couples, "It is also time to make sure our state takes some basic steps towards fairness and decency."

The proposal includes health insurance for the partners of state employees. "I don't want the state to be less competitive at our university and other institutions because we don't treat people fairly," says Doyle.

The proposal would require counties to set up a registry for domestic partners living in a committed relationship. Dane County established a registry last December.

Once on the registry, couples would have legal rights of visitation in hospitals, power to make end of life decisions, and the right to inherit property, pensions and benefits like any married couple.

The usual suspects have already weighed in, with conservative groups criticising the proposal and liberal groups in support.

The proposal has support in the Democrat controlled legislature. "That should have been done last time," says Sen. Russ Decker (D-Weston), the Senate Majority Leader. "I just don't think we should be pre-judging people."

But it's not a slam dunk. "There will be a lot of debate going back and forth on that issue," says Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan. He supports the registry, but he's not sure if it will be in the final version of the budget. "This is the first day of a thousand mile journey and I think we'll be taking a close look at that."

Even if it passes it will likely face a legal challenge. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen hadn't seen the language last night, but he says it's possible the registry could fit the definition of 'substantially similar to marriage.' "It really depends on what they're looking to do," says Van Hollen. "There are an awful lot of areas of the law where there's room for movement, and an awful lot of others areas of the law where there's room to overstep."

But Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), the Co-Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, and one of two openly gay lawmakers, says he's not worried. "It said you couldn't have something that was marriage or substantially similar. Having a simple domestic partnership entity created that provides hospital visitation and end of life disposal remains is hardly an equal balance. I think it wil be just fine where it's at."

Dane County has registered 18 domestic partnerships since starting a list last December. Madison's domestic registry has been around since 1990 and contains nearly 600 couples.