There are many important races in Wisconsin this election year. All of them are deserving of our time and attention. While most of the focus is understandably on the high-profile statewide races, we should also remember to carefully consider the races that are not garnering as much attention, especially the many races for the Legislature. These races could have a tremendous effect on the state and specifically on the LGBT community.
Control of the Legislature hangs in the balance. Along with control comes an agenda that could be either good or bad for both the LGBT Community and for Wisconsin as a whole. When Republicans last controlled the Legislature, they clearly demonstrated where they stood on equality. Rather than model themselves after former Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus, who signed the nation’s first statewide gay rights law in 1982, they made the decision to adopt the agenda of the most extreme elements of their party. These are elements that thrive on mean-spirited division.
On Republicans’ watch, the University of Wisconsin became the only Big Ten University that did not offer its LGBT employees full benefit equality. In fact, whenever the issue was broached, it was immediately shot down without a fair hearing.
But perhaps the best example of the Republicans’ attitude toward equality is the way they repeatedly maneuvered and promoted the concept of marriage inequality while they controlled the Legislature. Their actions eventually led to the unfortunate constitutional amendment of 2006.
When Democrats took control of the Legislature, we were given repeated examples of how they valued all Wisconsinites, regardless of their sexual orientation. Within just a couple of years the Legislature and Gov. Doyle have taken critical actions on several issues that are important to the LGBT community. Key legislation passed last year establishing a statewide domestic partner registry. Along with the establishment of the registry came 43 (of the over 200) protections that are afforded to married couples under state law. Those benefits include hospital visitation, the ability to take family medical leave and inheritance rights. Fair Wisconsin has compiled a useful reference guide that explains domestic partnerships and the protections these new policies bring. It can be accessed at http://www.fairwisconsin.com.
In addition to the domestic partner registry, Gov. Doyle and the current legislative leaders ensured that all state employees are treated fairly. Because of their actions, the domestic partners of state employees finally qualify for the same benefits as everyone else.
So pay close attention to your legislative candidates and learn where they stand on these important issues. Actively support those who value equality by contributing to and volunteering for their campaigns. Let your friends, co-workers and straight allies know the candidates’ positions on equality.
If the current majority is replaced by the extreme alternative, history already shows us what could happen. What better reason is there to become fully engaged? Our pro-fairness majority in the Legislature is certainly worth protecting.