11.29.2006

Partnership benefits must be debated... thoughtfully

The Badger Herald reported today that the UW Board of Regents is planning to recommend that domestic partnership benefits be provided for UW-System employees. I think that it's at the very least worth consideration.

I hesitate to support anything too quickly, not because of any objection to domestic partner benefits, but because the state is facing a $1.6 billion deficit that needs to be fixed before any new spending programs are enacted. If the Regents propose a sensible program that does not place too much of strain on the budget process, I see no reason to deny these benefits.

That said, both the Regents and the legislature must behave intelligently and respectfully in the upcoming debate about this. It must not be allowed to devolve into the worthless "us vs. them" debate that surrounded so much of the debate over the Marriage Amendment. The issue here is benefits, and what offering those benefits will mean for the UW-System and the state. This is not a civil rights issue or a religious issue, the Amendment is now law and the debate surrounding it is over.

If the Regents are indeed able to show that the costs of providing these benefits are outweighed by the quality and quantity of the faculty, students, and staff that they will attract to the UW, it will be very difficult for the legislature to vote the proposal down.

Rep. Mark Gundrum has consistently argued that the Marriage Amendment will not preclude any business or government organization from offering domestic partnership benefits. If that is the case, as I believe it is, then he and the Regents should work together to craft the policy so that it is in line with our new Constitutional Amendment. It would send quite the message to the rest of the nation that so shortly after Wisconsin passed our own Marriage Amendment, we can still work together to provide healthcare benefits to all of our citizens.

If the Regents are sincere in their desire for these benefits to pass, they must offer to work with the legislature in writing the policy. Work to fix the problem or don't, but do not waste the people's time or money on petty political agendas or bickering.