Few couples register for domestic partnerships on first day
Four Rock County couples signed up for the domestic partnership registry Monday, the first day the state program was offered.
County Clerk Lori Stottler said she wasn't surprised by the low turnout.
"I think, eventually, word of mouth will travel, and we will get some consistent flow," she said.
Only one couple registered in Walworth County.
Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey said her staff had no idea what volume of people to expect, so they set up overflow seating in case there were several same-sex partners wishing to register.
"Should there have been an overflow, I think we were pretty well prepared," she said. "We have additional forms printed, our full office staff was here today, no one on vacation."
Things were a little busier in Dane and Milwaukee counties, where couples waited in line to sign up when the courthouses opened.
But even there, activity slowed later in the day. Dane County had taken about 50 applications and Milwaukee County had taken about 20 as of mid-afternoon.
The registry, signed into law as part of the state budget, provides about 40 benefits to same-sex couples of the more than 200 that are afforded married couples, such as allowing them to take family and medical leave to care of a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions and have hospital visitation rights.
Already, it is being challenged in court.
Wisconsin Family Action—which as the Family Research Institute in 2006 helped pushed through a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage—in July asked the state Supreme Court to invalidate the new domestic partnership registry.
Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers "created a legal status that is, according to the constitution, not legal," said Julaine Appling, the group's president. "(In 2006), 1.25 million voters went to the polls and said they want marriage to be between one man and one woman and they didn't want marriage by a different name."
The high court has not yet said whether it will take the case. It has agreed, however, to hear arguments in a case challenging the gay marriage ban.
A Dane County judge ruled last year the amendment was properly adopted.
Couples who signed up for the registry said they were pleased lawmakers created the registry this summer after being disappointed with the 2006 gay marriage ban.
"I feel like we're scrambling for the crumbs at the back of the bus," said Peppin Karras, 29, a teacher who signed up for the registry in Dane County with her partner of six years, Maureen Donahoe, 30.
"It still feels good, but it's not the recognition we want," said Donahoe.
Joseph Beagan, 63, and Gordon Hansen, 66, said they already had written wills and prepared legal documents giving them visitation rights, but that they wanted to have their 2-year-old relationship recognized.
"It really is more the idea … of having a partnership," said Beagan, of Madison. "It's the idea of standing up and being counted. It's about having numbers."
The measure makes Wisconsin the first state with a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions to provide domestic partnerships for gay couples.
Wisconsin is also the first Midwestern state to legislatively enact protections for same-sex couples, according to advocates. Iowa's Supreme Court approved gay marriage in April.
Doyle's budget also provided insurance and other benefits for same-sex couples who work for the state, which the UW-Madison has said will help attract and retain top faculty and researchers. The added benefits are expected to cost taxpayers $4.7 million to $6.7 million a year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
A couple must live together to be registered, Stottler said. They should bring their birth certificates, driver's licenses and Social Security numbers to sign up. If they've been married, they most show proof of divorce.
The cost is $90 in Rock County, same as a marriage license.
After a five-day waiting period, the couple return and the declaration is notarized, then filed with the register of deeds, Stottler said. No ceremony is required.
Though the process might seem similar to the process for getting a marriage license, there are lots of little quirks that make it different, she said.
For example, a couple can terminate a partnership at the clerk's office. They must wait 90 days before entering into another domestic partnership, as opposed to the six-month waiting period after a marriage. But there is no waiting period if one of the partners wants to marry someone of the opposite sex.
"They have all these little things that we're just trying to wrap our heads around," Stottler said.