Janesville29.6°

Same-sex couples still feel prejudice despite state’s new registry

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
August 23, 2009

Fear and prejudice are among the reasons few same-sex couples have registered in Rock and Walworth counties since the Wisconsin domestic partnership registry started Aug. 3, two area women said.


In Rock County, 12 couples had applied as of Friday. In Walworth County, six had applied.


“There are a lot of gays and lesbians who are too afraid to come out because of society’s action,” Cathie of Lake Geneva said.


Cathie, who asked to not be identified because not all her work clients know she is gay, said she and partner, Tanya, probably would register later this week.


A Rock County woman, who asked to not be identified because she is not “out” to all the people in her life, said she and her long-term partner won’t register out of principle.


“It’s a move in the right direction, but we’re still treated as second-class citizens,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face, and I really respect people who have signed up, but it’s not enough.”


She sees few benefits to the registry. The woman said she could hire a lawyer to draw up a living will to get the same hospital visitation benefits called for in the domestic partnership registry. And that’s probably the best way to go about that, she said.


Dane County has reported the most applicants for the registry, which gives same-sex couples dozens of the same benefits as married couples, such as inheritance rights, hospital visitation and medical leave. Dane County passed the 200 mark Thursday morning, officials said.


Milwaukee County has reported the second-most registrations—more than 94 as of late last week.


“We didn’t really know what to expect in terms of the numbers of registrants,” said Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender advocacy group.


“When we had done some initial research to figure how many couples would register total in the first year, it was anywhere from 1,200 to 5,000 couples statewide within the first year.”


It’s difficult to predict how many couples will register and when. Some couples are waiting for dates meaningful to them, such as anniversaries, she said.


Cathie said the numbers are disappointing.


She expected to see more couples registering in Milwaukee, for example.


“My opinion: They’re either not ready or they don’t know.”


Cathie said she hadn’t heard about the legislation included in Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget until a day after the registry went into effect.


Belanger said Fair Wisconsin has worked to increase awareness of the newly available benefits for same-sex partners.


“We feel that the word is out and we’re going to keep making sure as many couples know that they have a limited set of protections available to them,” she said.


The legislation extends 43 benefits to same-sex partners compared to more than 200 benefits granted by marriage, Belanger said. Social Security and filing state or federal taxes jointly are still exclusive to married couples, for example.


The benefits are short of what the gay community would like, “but this is a very important and critical step in moving toward equality,” she said. “This is the first positive piece of legislation that the LGBT community has seen in more than 27 years.”


In the end, Belanger said, weighing the pros and cons of the registry and deciding whether it’s the right choice for them is a process Wisconsin couples will have to go through on their own.


The Rock County woman said she doesn’t need a piece of paper to define the terms of her relationship.


Cathie said she doesn’t either, but she and her partner will do it anyway.


“When you’re from a month ago thinking society will never let us have this, to at least being able to do the domestic partnership, it will be one of the happiest days of my life,” she said.



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