March 30, 2005

The fight over domestic partner benefits.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:
Two key lawmakers said Tuesday they would recommend removing a provision of Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed budget extending insurance benefits to the domestic partners of unmarried University of Wisconsin System employees.

Rep. Dean Kaufert, R- Neenah, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget-writing committee, and committee member Rep. David Ward, R- Fort Atkinson, said the $1 million proposal was ill-timed.

"It is impossible to think of extending employee benefits to a whole new demographic of people at the same time we are watching the UW System struggle to cover their current set of bills," Kaufert said, calling the decision "a fiscal issue, plain and simple."

But university officials who testified before the Joint Finance Committee at a daylong hearing on the budget said the provision is a key part of an overall effort to attract and retain star faculty, which also includes $5 million for campuses to counter offers from competing institutions.

"On a fairness basis, I think there's a pretty strong case that can be made for extending domestic partner benefits," Regent Charles Pruitt said. "But on a competitive basis, it's an even stronger case. We are the only university system in the Big Ten that doesn't offer domestic partner benefits."

Gov. Jim Doyle has budgeted $500,000 in each of the next two years for the benefit, which would let same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples qualify for the same family insurance coverage spouses of university employees get.

The provision is seen as a long shot in a Republican- controlled Legislature seeking to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions....
I would argue that those who are against same-sex marriage ought to support equalizing benefits. Gay state employees shouldn't be stuck with a systematically inferior pay package and shouldn't be singled out for special burdens when we need to save money. Those who want to make an argument about the essential nature of marriage shouldn't want to connect that argument -- which they try to phrase in lofty, idealistic terms -- with shortchanging a set of employees. A lot of us are already skeptical of your lofty -- we might say sanctimonious -- presentation of the argument against same-sex marriage. If you link this argument with rank cost-cutting, you can expect us to become even more skeptical.

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