Low turnout doesn't dampen domestic partners' spirits
Monday was the first day that same-sex Wisconsin couples could apply for a "declaration of domestic partnership," and although only about 20 couples registered, West Milwaukee's Denise Cawley and Anne Hefter were happy to spend part of their day at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
"Registering provides us with one more piece of legal paper for us to give validity to our 13-year commitment," says Cawley.
Although the domestic partnership is not the same as a legal marriage -- it provides only a fraction of the benefits -- it does allow same-sex couples to have hospital visitation privileges and family leave rights for a sick or dying partner.
Cawley suspects that the low turnout of gay couples at the courthouse was, in part, due to the perception that the declaration does not offer enough.
But the significance of registering, says Cawley, goes beyond the benefits.
"Registering is important because we -- as a gay family -- have to stand up and be counted every time there is an opportunity. We have learned that many are afraid to stand up or they think it is enough to do one interview, attend one event and that they have taken their turn. That's great, but there is more work to be done," says Cawley. "Anne and I are out in everything we do, so we have to continue to speak up for what is fair."
To register for a domestic partnership, at least one partner must have been a resident of the county for at least 30 days, both partners must be at least 18, partners must live together, partners can not be nearer of kin than second cousins and neither partner can be married or involved in another domestic partnership.
Couples register at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, 901 N. 9th St., and must bring a proof of residence, identification, certified copies of birth certificates for both individuals (NOT a copy), Social Security cards, divorce or death papers if one of the individuals was married before and $100 in cash or money order.
Cawley and Hefter have a 2-year-old son, Aidan, and although registering does not provide any protections for their child, they believe it's another opportunity to show their commitment to him. The couple has been together since 1996, and the two were married in Massachusetts on 2008.
"It is our dream that Wisconsin will recognize the importance of giving children two legal parents in the future," says Cawley. "We can only hope that more rights will be added to this list of rights we received today."
For now, the couple will celebrate the small step towards equality.
"We are joyous that this is a step in the right direction and gives us a few more rights than we had yesterday," says Cawley. "We applaud Fair Wisconsin and the governor for making an effort to protect gay families. We look forward to seeing our rights continue to expand until we have a fair situation for all."
Wisconsin Family Action, a conservative group opposing the domestic partners' registry, filed a petition with the Supreme Court stating the domestic partnership declaration violates the amendment banning gay marriage in Wisconsin.
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