Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wisconsin's Domestic Partner Status Is Not Substantially Similar To Marriage. Period.

It is done. Wisconsin has redeemed itself and its progressive history. It is the first state in these United States which bans marriage for same-sex couples and also grants them basic legal protection. Opponents of basic rights for all couples are going to have a field day and have been working to eradicate basic rights for same-sex couples ever since the conception of Wisconsin's domestic partner status.

It should be an interesting situation to watch. When considering the constitutionality of domestic partners there is something else these.. challengers.. will need to push beyond: their own words. Why? In Wisconsin, legal process includes a test for legislative intent.

The state already recognizes that State Representative Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin and amendment author, intended to prohibit look-alike marriages and not prohibit domestic partner benefits. The leaders of the campaign to pass the disgusting ban via constitutional amendment have expressed that the ban would not affect domestic partner benefits.

From the state summary itself:

There is evidence of intent ... to support the position that it is reasonable to conclude that the provision does not prohibit the domestic partner proposal included in (the state budget). The intent of the second sentence ... was discussed in a 2006 memorandum prepared by (Gundrum's) office.

Further down in the state summary is Gundrum's own explanation that the proposal:

.. does not prohibit the state, local governments or private entities from setting up their own legal construct to provide particular privileges of benefits, such as health insurance benefits, pension benefits, joint tax return filing, hospital visitation, etc. as those bodies are able and deem appropriate. As long as the legal construct designed by the state does not rise to the level of creating a legal status 'identical or substantially similar' to that of marriage (i.e., marriage, but by a different name), no particular privileges or benefits would be prohibited.

Then there is the recorded media account, again accounted for in the state summary:

Note, too, that media accounts of statements from supporters of the constitutional amendment that created (the same sex marriage ban) would be relevant in determining intent. In order to determine not only the legislative intent behind a constitutional amendment but also to determine the intent of the electorate in approving a constitutional amendment, a court will review expressions made in the media.

I wonder if that review of media would include..

Journal Sentinel
Appling said she has "no plans to be involved in litigation." She added "the government is free to give benefits to unmarried individuals on a basis that does not approximate marriage."

Wisconsin State Journal
State Attorney General Van Hollen "..agreed with Lautenschlager's recent opinion that a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage would not prevent local governments or private employers from providing health benefits to the same-sex partners of employees."

Marriage Equality New York
"If the state Legislature wants to take up adoption and inheritance rights, it can do that" if the amendment becomes law, Appling said. "Nothing in the second sentence prohibits that. Nor does it in any way affect existing benefits given by local governments or the private sector."

Capital Times
When critics of Wisconsin's proposed ban on gay marriage and civil unions warned it would threaten domestic partner benefits, supporters of the measure said they were crying wolf.

"That's just an absurd argument," Julaine Appling of the Family Research Council told The Capital Times in February 2006.

Need I say more? Not really, except to end with stating what the new legal status does not include:

  • The mutual obligation of support that spouses have in marriage.
  • The comprehensive property system that applies to spouses under the marital property law.
  • The requirements of divorce law for terminating a marriage.

The new legal status grants a limited set of 43 benefits, rights, and protections to same-sex couples.

Would someone PLEASE explain to me how, exactly, is the legal status of domestic partner identical or substantially similar to that of marriage? At least the intent of the amendment is pretty clear to me with regards to basic legal protection for same-sex couples. Thank you, Wisconsin!

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