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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, April 24, 2024

State Supreme Court to hear gay rights cases

The storm surrounding the November referendum banning gay marriage is picking up speed once again as the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided last week to hear eight domestic partner benefits cases from across the state. 


Cities throughout Wisconsin are appealing a decision blocking them from intervening in a suit filed by Jody Helgeland, a research specialist at UW-Madison, along with five other current or former state employees and their same-sex partners.  


""Domestic partner benefits are a way for employers to let families who are not legally married share health insurance,"" according to Josh Freker, executive director of Fair Wisconsin. 


Freker said this notion has become mainstream in the private sector of employment as well as in most other Big Ten universities, with ""over 9,000 employers and over half of the Fortune 500 companies offer these benefits."" 


UW-Madison, however, currently does not offer such benefits.  


Freker described the loss of valuable UW-Madison professors as outweighing the monetary cost of the benefits—including professor Rob Carpick an associate professor of engineering who left last year for the University of Pennsylvania, which does offer domestic partner benefits.  


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""There's a price tag for not offering these benefits because it's hurting the state of Wisconsin's ability to attract and retain really talented people,"" Freker said. 


To alleviate such losses, Gov. Jim Doyle's recently proposed domestic partner benefits in his 2007 budget address. 


However, critics say allocating budget money toward benefits that would benefit the gay community is not feasible or fair for Wisconsin taxpayers. 


""This is one of the things the Democrats have made a priority instead of lowering the tax burden, creating good jobs, and making the economy better,"" said Mike Prentiss, spokesman for Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.  


""They're not focused on what they should be, which is protecting taxpayers,"" he said.  


According to Prentiss, the state deficits in health care, transportation and other areas must take priority over these benefits.  


It will, however, be some time before any agreement is made on the issue, due to a multi-faceted budget process involving many steps, including a joint finance committee, approval in both houses and a conference committee. 


The budget is to be finalized sometime mid-summer, according to state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. 


""We hope this issue will be seen for what it is, which is a strong issue of fairness for all state employees,"" Pocan said. ""We'll join the private sector in recognizing the value of their employees by offering these benefits.""

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