Milwaukee, WI -
Wisconsin lawmakers approved recognition of gay unions with the passage of a domestic partner registry last week, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported.
The state becomes the first with a constitutional amendment banning marriage and civil unions for gay and lesbian couples to recognize their unions.
Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, lobbied for the legislation, which extends a limited number of protections for gay couples, by including the language in his biannual state budget unveiled in February. Democrats, who control the Legislature, gave him a standing ovation.
"This isn't an issue of being gay or straight - we are not judging people's lives here," Doyle said in his budget address to the Legislature. "But I don't want the state to stand in the way of someone being able to care for their long-term partner. And I don't want the state to be less competitive at our university and other institutions because we don't treat people fairly."
Four states - Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa - have legalized gay marriage in 2009, but several states are moving more cautiously, providing basic protections for gay couples first, including Wisconsin, Washington State, and Nevada. In Washington State, lawmakers agreed to extend a domestic partnership law to include all the rights and obligations of marriage, a move being challenged by opponents. All three states prohibit gay marriage by law or constitutional amendment.
Opponents, who have called the law an "end run" around the state's ban on marriage and civil unions for gay couples approved by voters in 2006, say they will challenge the law.
"In scope and in intent, this is very marriage-like and shows that it's an attempt to overturn the will of the people," Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, which supported the anti-gay marriage amendment as the Family Research Institute, told the paper.
But Appling's group repeatedly asserted during the campaign to pass the gay marriage ban that they were not against granting gay couples basic rights, and were only interested in protecting marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The registry opens Monday, August 3.