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Monday, February 13, 2006

Forward, Wisconsin!

Wisconsin has been called the original "gay rights" state, after being the first in the country to pass measures denouncing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It might also be the first state to turn the tide of the campaign of bigotry the Republicans seem to think is destined to turn out votes for them. This editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal, the state's second-largest paper, indicates the progressive, independent, fair-minded thinking for which the people of Wisconsin are known.


Marriage Benefits Should Be For All
A State Journal editorial

The cause of equal rights is at the heart of the debate over gay marriage and a powerful reason for legalizing it.

Under Wisconsin law, a married couple has nearly 200 legal benefits and protections; under federal law, an additional 1,138, according to a recent report by Action Wisconsin and the Human Rights Campaign.

For instance, married people can:

• Receive the medical records of a spouse.

• Seek worker's compensation claims if a spouse dies.

• Avoid a state fee after transferring real estate between spouses.

• Claim separate personal tax exemptions.

• For eligible state employees, purchase long-term care insurance for a spouse.

The many benefits and protections married people enjoy extend to most facets of life. It is discriminatory and demeaning not to offer them to some of our citizens on the sole basis of sexuality.

Wisconsin should speak up for equality this November by opposing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and civil unions if it makes it onto the ballot.

The proposed amendment defines marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. State law already limits marriage to a husband and wife. But amendment supporters want to ensure that the inequality of marriage rights is cemented into our society.

The state Senate in December passed the amendment, which is now before the Assembly. If passed, voters may have to decide in a statewide referendum.

The change would make it much tougher for gay marriage to become a reality in Wisconsin. And it would forbid civil unions, which are supported by a majority of state residents.

An unmarried couple, whether gay or straight, would not be able to gain "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of a marriage," under the amendment.

Such a ban could even jeopardize domestic-partner benefits, which many Wisconsin employers offer to be fair and to help their bottom lines by attracting talented employees.

The government could conceivably sue companies for offering insurance coverage that gives a gay couple the same protection as a married couple.

The vehemence and finality in the amendment's exclusionary language is truly disheartening.

It tells the world that, in Wisconsin, some people's rights to health care, spousal support and tax relief don't matter.

And by including it in this state's constitution, the amendment would institutionalize inequality.

Wisconsin should not stand for that.

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