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Budget committee shelves statewide domestic partner registry

Domestic partners of public employees would no longer be able to receive benefits under a budget motion.

Wisconsin’s domestic partner registry would be shelved under a proposal approved Thursday.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 to adopt Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to eliminate domestic partner benefits for state employees, affecting some 4,400 state workers and saving an estimated $4.4 million over two years.

But the committee went further, prohibiting additional registrants on the statewide domestic partner registry for same-sex couples starting six months after the budget takes effect. It also prohibits local government public employees from receiving benefits for their registered domestic partner and the partner’s dependents.

The statewide domestic partner registry and state government domestic partner benefits were created in the 2009-11 state budget to address same-sex couples who weren’t allowed to marry under a state constitutional amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has since legalized same-sex marriage.

Republicans said ending the statewide registry was a matter of fairness for opposite-sex couples.

Unlike the state domestic partnership registry, state government domestic partner benefits were available to opposite-sex couples as well. Of the 4,400 state workers who receive such benefits 78 percent are opposite-sex couples.

Democrats argued there are many reasons why couples choose not to get married, including the loss of a spouse. They noted other Big Ten conference states provide domestic partner benefits, so getting rid of the option eliminates an employee recruitment tool.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said that while only “a handful” of city employees might be affected, “this is a terribly obnoxious thing for them to do, and let’s hope it doesn’t become enacted into law.”

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