Domestic Partnership Agreement Disputed for ‘Same Sex’ Language
By Brandi Makuski
City Councilmembers are sounding off over a proposal to include same- sex partnerships into the city’s health care coverage.
An agreement drafted by Mayor Andrew Halverson and City Attorney Andrew Logan Beveridge proposed offering benefits to qualified same- sex domestic partners of city employees. The measure came before the Personnel Committee Monday night but died after only one member of the committee made a motion to accept the agreement. The item needed a second motion before a vote to accept or deny could take place.
But city alderpersons will have another chance to discuss and debate the merits of the agreement at Monday’s Common Council meeting. Despite only being public for about a week, the topic is already shaping up to be a controversial one.
“Two words should not be in the agreement: ‘same sex’,” said Council President Jerry Moore. “I’m not against it, but specifically including those two words changed the meaning of what a ‘domestic partner’ is under state law.”
In Wisconsin, domestic partnerships are legally defined as either a same-sex and opposite- sex (i.e., common- law husband and wife) couple who has registered with the state.
Alderman Roger Trzebiatowski said the language in the draft agreement is discriminatory.
“I think if we eliminate those two words, ‘same sex’, it would be good,” Trzebiatowski said Thursday. “I think that language restricts some people; maybe they don’t want to spend money on a marriage, or maybe they’re in a long- term domestic relationship, and this precludes them from being included.”
Trzebiatowski added he would be in favor of the agreement if the words “same sex” were removed.
“That obviously would clear up the whole problem,” He said. “As long as it applies evenly to all employees we have unilaterally across the board.”
Alderwoman Joanne Suomi said she’s not sure about including opposite-sex couples in the agreement.
“That’s something I’d have to think about,” Suomi said. “But I definitely want the language to say ‘domestic partnership’, and now I’m hearing that ‘same sex’ language could be controversial. And I need to think about that.”
Suomi was among the first in the city to be approached by Fair Wisconsin- a Madison- based political action committee which works to protect civil rights of gays and lesbians- to cover domestic partners of city employees with the city’s high-deductible insurance coverage. Suomi in turn brought the idea before Mayor Halverson, and based on that meeting, Suomi said she realized how important the conversation was.
“I’m doing this, I got involved, this is the right thing to be doing, and getting people’s voice to be heard on this issue. As far as the timing, I say, ‘why not now?’. And you know what- the mayor’s on board,” she said.
Mayor Halverson said the agreement is important because it offers something same- sex partners cannot legally obtain any other way.
“We wanted to focus specifically on same sex- partners first; primarily because the options available to those relationships are considerably less. (Opposite- sex partnerships) have the option to marry, obviously same- sex relationships do not. And that’s a big difference,” the mayor said.
When asked if a new agreement could be drafted with minor changes added to include opposite-sex partnerships, Halverson said, “that I can’t comment on. I have not discussed that with the city attorney, and our focus first and foremost was on domestic partners.”
City Attorney Andrew Logan Beveridge could not be reached for comment.
The Common Council meets Monday June 17 at 7 PM on the second floor of the courthouse.
A draft of the current agreement can be found in the Personnel Committee agenda.