Rock County OKs benefits for same-sex couples

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, January 23, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rock County employees in same-sex domestic partnerships can now share  benefits such as health insurance with their significant others.

On Thursday, the Rock County Board voted 20-7 in favor of a resolution allowing the policy change. Two supervisors were absent.

The vote came after more than 90 minutes of comments from citizens and discussion among board members. More than 50 people were in attendance at the beginning of the meeting, and that number swelled as the night went on.

During the citizen comment period, two people spoke against the resolution; six registered in favor of the resolution and about a dozen people spoke in favor of it.

Rock County Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman, Beloit City Council vice-president Mark Spreitzer and Janesville City Council member Sam Liebert were among the people speaking in favor of the resolution.

Liebert presented the board with a petition of 150 signatures in favor of the resolution.

Two people spoke against the resolution, including Gary Utterberg of Janesville.

“If you pass this, there's a lot of taxpayers that will say, 'What's going on here?'” Utterberg said.

Utterberg said that he thought that the vote “wasn't about insurance, but about acceptance,” and he asked supervisors to turn it down.

Perhaps one of the significant factors in the “yes” vote was the work of Mary Kay Vukovich, a 13-year county employee who now works at Rock County Jail.

In the past few weeks, Vukovich who has a registered domestic partner, called all the supervisors and talked to as many of them as she could.

At the meeting, she thanked supervisors for their time and told them she was proud to work for the county.

“In voting 'yes' tonight, you say to me, as a county employee, that my family is equal,” Vukovich said. “You tell my five children that family is equal. You tell my eight grandchildren my family is equal.”

Supervisor Brent Fox, who voted against the resolution when it was before the finance committee, said that Vukovich changed his mind.

"My vote on the finance committee was a pretty easy decision for me to make,” Fox said.

His own sexual preference and his upbringing factored into that vote. He said that homosexuality “didn't sit well with me.”

“Then I talked with Officer Vukovich,” Fox said. “Then I started examining my decision.”

After examining it from every side, including the fiscal angle, he decided that he needed to vote yes.

Supervisor Rick Richard said that when he was considering any vote, he always reminded himself “that the primary role of government is to protect the rights of individuals.”

His 'yes' vote, then, was extending equal rights to all county employees.

Supervisor Louis Peer, who voted against the resolution, said he thought the issue should go to referendum for the voters to decide.

“Traditional family values seem to be changing, and that's the problem we're having tonight,” Peer said.

He said the “silent majority” of people would stay home, and not speak out on an issue like this one.

The cities of Beloit, Evansville, Edgerton, Milton, Janesville, Madison; the school district of Janesville and Blackhawk Tech and Dane County already offer benefits to same-sex couples in registered domestic partnerships.

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