Monday, October 09, 2006

UW regents vote to oppose ban on gay marriage

By RYAN J. FOLEY, The Associated Press
MADISON — University of Wisconsin System regents voted Friday to oppose the Nov. 7 referendum banning gay marriage, saying it will hurt their ability to recruit and retain gay and lesbian employees.

Regents, who govern the UW System of 13 four-year universities and 13 two-year colleges, said the amendment would threaten the state's ability to provide domestic partner benefits.

A poll released Friday showed the amendment has enough support one month before the election to pass.

The regents have long lobbied the Legislature to lift a ban on health and other benefits for partners of gay employees. Lawmakers turned down their request last year, citing the cost and moral opposition to recognizing those relationships.

UW-Madison is the only Big 10 university that does not offer the benefits — a policy that recently prompted a star nanotechnology researcher to leave.

Regents approved a resolution on a voice vote at their meeting at University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Regent Gerard Randall, one of the few Republicans on the 17-member board, cast the only no vote.

Mike Tate, campaign manager for Fair Wisconsin, a group fighting the amendment, said the regents' resolution sends a strong message.

``They are such a broad group of people against it for so many different reasons,'' he said. ``They aren't doing this because they have some dog in the gay rights fight. They think this would harm the system's ability to be one of the best in the nation.''

But Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin and an author of the amendment, said the regents are behaving like ``liberal activists.'' He contends the amendment would leave room for future legislation allowing civil unions or domestic partner benefits.

``They are trying to confuse the public into thinking this could affect domestic partner benefits when the amendment on marriage will in no way whatsoever affect any benefits at the university or anywhere else,'' he said.

The poll released Friday by WISC-TV in Madison showed 51 percent favor the amendment, while 42 percent are opposed. The poll of 600 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Regent Charles Pruitt of Milwaukee, who sponsored the resolution, said the regents probably would have stayed silent on the amendment if it addressed only gay marriage.

But he said the amendment's second sentence outlawing relationships ``substantially similar'' to marriage creates legal uncertainty over whether the state could provide domestic partner benefits. The sentence was designed to ban Vermont-style civil unions.

Pruitt acknowledged the regents risked a backlash at a time when the UW System has been under fire for budget problems and other policy matters.

``It's the old adage, why are you going out looking for trouble when trouble seems to be finding you?'' he said.

Christopher Semanas, a regent who is a UW-Parkside student, said the amendment could drive away ``young fantastic professionals that we are trying to attract to the state.''

``We are saying that we're standing up for a fair and tolerant Wisconsin,'' he said.

UW System President Kevin Reilly recommended the stance to the regents, according to a background paper drafted by staff. The paper noted that similar amendments in Michigan and Ohio have prompted legal disputes over whether governments can offer benefits there.

Measures banning gay marriage have passed in all 20 states where they have been on the ballot.

Rob Carpick, the UW-Madison nanotechnology researcher leaving for the University of Pennsylvania, ``is one visible record of the loss the state experiences due to the proposed constitutional ban and lack of benefits,'' the briefing paper said. UW does not track how many others have left or turned down offers.

Carpick is considered a star who had already brought UW $3.4 million in grants. He told The Associated Press in August he was departing because ``it's problematic to work in an environment where you are not treated equally.''

2 comments: said...

New York City) The frontrunner in the race for New York State governor drew thunderous applause and a standing ovation Thursday night as he declared same-sex marriage a civil right.

Elliot Spitzer has been a longtime supporter of equal marriage and has voiced that support throughout the campaign, but in his speech to about 1,000 people at the Empire State Pride Agenda's annual dinner Thursday he went further suggesting he would author legislation and send it to the Legislature if he is elected in November.

"No New Yorker should be deprived of the right to marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender," the Democrat who is currently Attorney General said.

"This is not about forcing any religion to perform or recognize gay marriage. It's simply about permitting gay and lesbian couples the right to live in stable, long-term married relationships."

It brought the crowd, that included a large number of state and local lawmakers, to their feet.

Spitzer also said that the rights of churches which do not support same-sex marriage must be protected.

"We must protect the rights of people of faith and their institutions," he said. "If I'm elected next month, I will make sure the government does not infringe on religious choice and practice. This, too, is a sacred civil right - part of the pantheon of values that define and protects all civil rights."

That he will be elected is virtually assured. Spitzer enjoys a 50-point lead over his Republican opponent, John Faso. Faso opposes same-sex marriage but has said he would support domestic partner law.

In July the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled that same-sex couples do not have a constitutional right to marry. (story) It said that the issue, however, could be taken up by the Legislature.

Bills coming before the Legislature are usually penned by members of the Assembly or the Senate, but in New York governor's regularly write their own legislation, called Program Bills which are then filed by members.

Democrats control the Assembly in Albany but Republicans have a firm grip on the Senate, something that is unlikely to change next month.

Just prior to Thursday night's speech by Spitzer, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) announced his support for equal marriage legislation.

US Senator Russ Feingold also addressed the Pride Agenda dinner, voicing his support for gay marriage. The Wisconsin Democrat is one of four US Senators who have come out for gay marriage. The others are Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), and Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island).

© 2006

deke said...

A few months ago, after helping a friend change a tire, we were putting items back in his trunk when I saw a file of legal papers he kept. I understood instantly the files were there in the case he or his partner were involved in a medical situation on the road which required a hospital or doctor to be aware that this couple could and wanted to make decisions for each other in emergencies. Included in this file I saw were hospital visitation authorizations, living wills, directives to attending physicians, powers of attorney forms for both health care and finance that were notarized and signed by a raft of people. Additionally, there were forms for declaration of domestic partner status; a non-binding legal agreement to support the other documents claiming that the one had the right to assist the other in any situation. All of the forms were in duplicate and reciprocal, and must have cost a fair amount in attorney’s fees.

That is the reality of being gay in America in 2006. To ensure that basic rights and dignities are afforded gay couples, they must carry expensive legal documents with them–and then even some of those documents may not be honored, and they are to expect that. How many straight couples have you talked with that need and require the same such paperwork in the case of an accident? How many expect in advance that their wishes may or may not be honored in a time of crisis?