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20 Effects of the Civil Unions and Marriage Ban

Contact: Rachel Strauch-Nelson, 608-441-0143, ext. 316

Starting 20 days out to Election Day, Fair Wisconsin is highlighting 20 things that would be affected by the civil unions and marriage ban. Each day the campaign will highlight one effect, including rights or protections that would be outlawed for all unmarried couples by the civil unions and marriage ban.

Day 1: The democratic process in Wisconsin

Passing the civil unions and marriage ban would tie the hands of future legislators to consider civil unions or a statewide domestic partner registry because of the far-reaching and punitive language of the second sentence. While a majority of Wisconsinites do not currently support marriage for gay couples, numerous polls have demonstrated majority support for civil unions. Amendment proponents claim they want to prevent judges from imposing civil unions or marriage for gay couples, but this amendment was written in such a way that it will also block lawmakers from addressing this issue. Passing the amendment would cut off the long-term public conversation about how to treat gay families fairly.

 

Day 2: Over 14,000 Wisconsin couples

A recent survey of new U.S. Census data by the Williams Institute reported that over 14,000 gay couples live in every part of Wisconsin. These real families will be hurt by the ban.. This far-reaching measure would prohibit civil unions and could take away critical legal protections from these couples– people who are minding their own business, contributing to their communities and raising their families just like everyone else. This is an issue of basic fairness, and this ban is not how we treat people here in Wisconsin.

 

Day 3: Retirement Benefits

As a right that could be offered by civil unions or civil marriage, the ability to share retirement benefits with a partner would be threatened. The far-reaching and vague language of the ban’s second sentence could mean future lawmakers could never extend basic legal protections like these to long-term, committed unmarried couples, whether gay or straight.

 

Day 4: Right to funeral planning

As a right of civil unions of civil marriage, the ability to make funeral plans for a deceased partner would be seriously jeopardized for all unmarried couples. If you’ve spent your entire life with someone, you should never be shut out of the funeral planning process and should never have arrangements you’ve made together questioned. Passing this ban could give grounds for such challenges.

 

Day 5: The ability to be the legal next of kin for all sorts of purposes

As a right afforded by civil unions or civil marriage, the ability to be legal next of kin for any purpose could be threatened by the proposed ban. No power of attorney or will is as ironclad as this legal next of kin status. Gay couples can make some legal arrangements with the help of an attorney, but even those documents can have less force than being recognized as next of kin or biological relative. "Legal next of kin" is our society's way of recognizing that your partner is your family. The ban would make that impossible for thousands of families in Wisconsin.

 

Day 6: Obtain life insurance

As a right of civil unions of civil marriage, the right to obtain life insurance after the death of a partner would be taken off the table for unmarried couples. This could potentially leave families without the financial means to take care of each other, and this is harmful to children. This is one of the reasons groups like the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and the Wisconsin chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics have come out against the ban. They understand that seriously jeopardizing benefits like these for unmarried couples can ultimately hurt children depending on these protections.

 

Day 7: Medical decision-making

By giving a partner legal next of kin status, civil unions or civil marriage offers the ability to help a partner make critical medical decisions. By outlawing civil unions, the amendment would block this important protection. It could even seriously jeopardize existing legal arrangements for unmarried couples, such as medical powers of attorney. Groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society have come out against the ban because they are concerned that it could threaten the right to help a family member make life and death decisions.

 

Day 8: Wills & estates

If passed, the civil unions and marriage ban would give legal ground to challenge legal documents like wills and estates. A couple that has spent their lives together should not have last wishes challenged by anyone simply because they have created a legal relationship that is “substantially similar” to marriage. Numerous legal experts including 19 former, current and future presidents of the Wisconsin State Bar; the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers; over 200 independent lawyers, including lawyers who specialize in wills and estates; and 30 members of the State Bar’s Board of Governors oppose the ban because they are concerned it could impact these legal arrangements.

 

Day 9: Filing joint taxes

As a right of civil unions or civil marriage, the right to jointly file taxes with a partner would be taken off the table for all unmarried couples. No matter how much work a gay couple puts into making sure they are financially stable and entwined, certain rights, like the ability to file joint taxes, are still not available to them - and this amendment would permanently foreclose the possibility.

 

Day 10: Access to medical records

As a right of civil unions or civil marriage, access to a partner’s medical records could be seriously jeopardized if the ban passes. Access to medical records is an automatic right for legal next of kin, a status that could be seriously jeopardized if the ban were to pass in Wisconsin.

 

Day 11: Burial arrangement, joint cemetery plots

As a right of civil unions or civil marriage, the ability to choose burial arrangements and joint cemetery plots would be seriously jeopardized. After passage of a similar amendment in Nebraska, the state’s Attorney General ruled that a bill that would give domestic partners burial decision-making rights is unconstitutional. The civil unions and marriage ban could have the same impact here.


Day 12: The ability to take bereavement leave

As a right of civil unions or civil marriage, the automatic ability to take bereavement leave in the case of a death in the family would be seriously jeopardized for all unmarried couples. When dealing with a death in the family, no one should ever have to think about whether they can afford to take the time off of work, and if this ban were to pass, it could families in that situation.

 

Day 13: Joint parenting rights

As a right of civil union or civil marriage, joint parenting rights would be taken off the table, harming families around the state, and ultimately harming children by denying their parents the ability to raise their family under basic protections of the law. That’s why advocates for children, like the Wisconsin chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the Wisconsin Council of Children and Families oppose the ban – because they know that ultimately it would harm children by taking away basic legal protections from their families.

 

Day 14: Domestic partner benefits

Domestic partner benefits offered by public and private employers would be seriously jeopardized. Existing contracts and health care could be taken away from families across the state, as we’ve seen happen in other states that have passed similar amendments. Courts in Michigan and Ohio are facing legal challenges to domestic partner benefits offered by public employers, and some families have already lost health care in Michigan because of that state’s ban.

The Dane County Corporation Counsel, the City of Madison attorney, and the Milwaukee City lobbyist have all expressed concerns that that the proposed ban will jeopardize domestic partner benefits currently offered by those governments. Domestic partner benefits are also currently offered by a number of other public employers in Wisconsin, including Madison Area Technical College, the La Crosse School District, and the Sun Prairie School District.

Over 100 private employers offer domestic partner benefits, and business leaders are concerned these could be challenged too if the ban passes, and that this would impact the business climate and reputation of our state.

 

Day 15: Domestic violence protections

If the civil unions and marriage ban passes, domestic violence protections would be threatened for any unmarried couple. After Ohio passed a similarly worded ban, several courts ruled that they could not grant domestic violence protections to a woman abused by her boyfriend, because this would qualify as a legal status “substantially similar” to marriage. The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault have come out against the civil unions and marriage ban in Wisconsin because they are concerned about the impact it will have on domestic violence protections for unmarried couples.

 

Day 16: The ability to assume a partner's property after death without being taxed

As a right of civil unions or civil marriage, the automatic ability to assume a partner’s property after death without being taxed would be off the table for gay couples in the state. This leaves countless Wisconsin families having the extra burden of worrying about financial arrangements after a partner dies.

 

Day 17: Hospital Visitation

As a right that could be offered through civil unions one day in Wisconsin, the ability to visit a partner when he or she is critically ill in the hospital could be seriously threatened by the ban. That’s why groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society, 30 members of the Wisconsin State Bar’s Board of Governors, and over 200 independent attorneys have come out against the ban – because they think it could threaten the right to see a family member when they’re sick or dying in the hospital.

 

Day 18: Medical powers of attorney

As a right that could be offered through civil unions one day in Wisconsin, the automatic ability to make medical decisions for gay partners would be prohibited. Because of the far-reaching language of the amendment, legal experts from former Wisconsin Bar Association presidents to former governors to the Wisconsin Medical Society, are concerned that even existing medical powers of attorney for unmarried couples would be jeopardized if the ban passes. Many families have taken every precaution possible in the form of powers of attorney documents, but this ban could give legal ground for any of these documents to be challenged in court.

 

Day 19: Survivorship agreements

As a right provided by civil unions or marriage, survivorship agreements would be threatened by the ban. Senior couples who re-partner later in life but do not remarry because of existing financial arrangements could see survivorship agreements with their partner jeopardized by the ban. That’s why groups like the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups and the Elder Law Section of the Wisconsin Bar Association have come out against the ban - because they are concerned it would jeopardize legal arrangements for elderly couples.

 

Day 20: Civil unions

By banning anything “substantially similar to marriage,” the ban would no doubt outlaw civil unions. Civil unions are something polls show more and more Wisconsinites are in favor of as a compromise measure. But if this amendment passes, civil unions as an option in the future would be taken off the table. The ban would tie the hands of future legislators to offer legal protections to families in the form of civil unions.

 From: http://www.fairwisconsin.com/index.html

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April 2009

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