Manitowoc adopts domestic partnership benefits

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The Manitowoc Common Council voted to extend health care benefits to the registered domestic partners of city employees, joining a growing number of small cities in Wisconsin that are creating fairer workplaces for their gay and lesbian workers.

Manitowoc councilmembers voted 5 to 4 in favor of adopting a new policy that will provide same-sex couples with the same employment benefits as married heterosexual couples.

Not a single person spoke against the domestic partnership policy during the March 20 common council meeting, said Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger. She worked with Mayor Justin Nickels, Ald. Matt Kadow and other members of the common council to coordinate passage of the measure.

The Manitowoc Common Council was spurred into action on the issue after Racine adopted a domestic partnership policy earlier this month. The vote in that city was 10 to 4.

Appleton’s elected officials enacted a partnership policy last fall, overcoming stiff resistance from right-wing Christians affiliated with Julaine Appling. The head of Wisconsin Family Action, Appling is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s domestic partnership registry.

Ironically, the never-married Appling lives with a longtime, also never-married female companion in a home the two own together in Watertown.

Belanger said the state’s domestic partnership registry has facilitated the adoption of laws and policies extending employment benefits to same-sex couples in the state.

“It is definitely a very strong tool for communities to use,” Belanger said. “With couples having the ability to go to their county clerk and register their relationships, the process is streamlined for cities’ human resource departments. The qualification process is already set for them.”

Belanger said the recent enactments of domestic partnership polices show  “that there is real momentum around how these cities are investing in their future.”

“We’ve got these amazing local leaders who are looking ahead and seeing that building an inclusive workplace is what they need to do to remain competitive – to bring people to their cities and hire the most talented workers,” Belanger said.

Janesville was scheduled to take up a domestic partner benefit policy in February, but Alder Yuri Rashkin, who was originally a sponsor, successfully moved to postpone consideration of the policy until May. That’s when the city begins its budgeting process for the next fiscal year.

But Janesville Common Council did vote unanimously to extend family funeral leave benefits to city workers who lose a same-sex partner, an incremental move toward equality according to Belanger.

Janesville Alder Sam Liebert is committed to moving the domestic partnership proposal forward,” Belanger said.

Liebert and Rashkin are two of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the Assembly in the 44th District. The primary election in that race is Aug. 14.

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