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County clerks prepare to register same-sex partnerships

It's not marriage, but some say it's marriage-like. There will be a waiting period and a fee, but no ceremony is needed.

In a couple of weeks, same-sex couples in Wisconsin will be allowed to declare domestic partnerships and take advantage of some of the rights and benefits extended to married couples.

County clerks around the state are preparing to accept domestic partnership declaration applications starting Aug. 3.

The Domestic Partnership Law was included in the 2009-2010 state budget signed by Gov. Jim Doyle June 29. The budget also includes domestic partner benefits for state employees.

The application process, said St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell, will be similar to applying for a marriage license. At least one of the applicants must have lived in the county for 30 days or longer, both must be of the same sex and at least 18, neither may be married or in another domestic partnership, the two must share a residence, and they must not be nearer of kin that second cousins.

Applicants must apply in person and there will be a five-day waiting period. Once the application is completed and signed, it must be recorded with the county register of deeds.

Campbell said she has no idea how many same-sex couples will register partnerships locally. She said Dane County, a larger county that already recognizes domestic partnerships, has been registering about 30 a year.

Application forms will be developed by the state registrar of vital statistics.

Pierce County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm said training for county clerks will be held toward the end of July. Those who can't attend this session may participate through a conference call.

St. Croix County will charge $100 to register a domestic partnership while Pierce County will charge $75. The fee is the same as the marriage license application fee. Twenty-five dollars of each fee will be sent to the state treasury. The rest will be kept by the county.

Under the new law, about 40 of the more than 200 rights and benefits extended to married couples will apply to domestic partners. Those include allowing domestic partners to take family and medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner, make end-of-life decisions, inherit the partner's estate in the absence of a will and have hospital visitation rights.

The domestic partnership may be terminated by either party after notice is served on the other partner. A termination must be filed in the same county that registered the partnership. The cost for termination is the same as the application fee.

The county clerk will record the partnerships in a "declaration of domestic partnership docket." That book will be open to the public during regular office hours.

Wisconsin Family Action President Juliane Appling said the domestic partnerships are very similar to marriage and are an attempt to sidestep the will of voters. According to press reports, she predicts a legal challenge.

UW-Madison officials have said domestic partner benefits will help them attract and keep top talent.

"This is an important step toward ensuring that someone in a committed relationship is able to care for his or her partner," said Glenn Carson of Fair Wisconsin in a press release. "No one should ever have to worry about being blocked at their partner's hospital room door, or have to make the heartbreaking decision to quit their job in order to care for a seriously ill partner. This isn't about being gay or straight - it's about being decent."

Some counties and municipalities, including Dane County and Milwaukee, already recognize domestic partnerships.