Monday, July 30, 2012

Democratic Party to endorse marriage equality in platform

Party changes tone from "opposing bans" to total support

The time is right to push for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in America. Then again, the time has ALWAYS been right, as it's always been the right thing to do.

One of the major political parties is set to recognize this fact.

When the Democratic Party convenes its convention in September, recognition of same-sex marriage will be included in its official party platform.

The proposed measure, approved unanimously by a 15-member draft committee, will read:
We support the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.
The proposal goes beyond what Democrats have supported in the past. In 2004, for example, Democrats opposed a federal ban on marriage rights for gay and lesbians, but did so by calling it a states' rights issue, and didn't support granting rights in any form on a national level.

Merely opposing a ban didn't mean the Democratic Party supported marriage equality -- indeed, both John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008 supported civil unions as a compromise solution. But civil unions disregard literally thousands of rights that gay and lesbian partners cannot attain because they aren't legally "married." Even today, in states where same-sex marriage IS legal, federal benefits are denied to said couples based on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

But attitudes are fast changing on the issue of same-sex marriage. A majority of Americans now support recognizing marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. Even in our own state, most Wisconsinites believe that some form of recognition should be available to same-sex couples, with only about a quarter of those in the Badger State believing that no benefits should be granted.

The time to push for marriage equality couldn't be better. With the Democratic Party officially endorsing that ideal, the dream could become a reality for millions of American families across the country.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cullen's departure based on vanity, not conviction

Drastic move unusual for cooperative, moderate senator

Sen. Tim Cullen, a moderate Democrat from Janesville, has decided to dump the party and possibly become a independent legislator.

It seems that Cullen was upset that he didn't get named to head any committee within the newly-formed Democratic Senate:
Cullen, who was among the 14 Democratic senators who left the state during the historic protests at the Capitol in 2011 but had sought compromise with GOP governor Scott Walker on collective bargaining, said he was insulted by not being named chairman of any Senate committees after the Democrats regain control of that chamber.
It was unclear initially what, if any, implication this move would have for the Democratic-controlled Senate, which just took power last week.

But Assemblyman Corey Mason, in an online Tweet/Facebook post, mentioned that Cullen would still vote for Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona) for Majority Leader, indicating that leadership roles, at least when it came to the Senate as a whole, would remain in the Democrats' hands (image taken around 4:00 PM on Tuesday, July 24).

Other committee assignments, however, could be up for contention -- a split Senate would have to compromise, with Cullen's vote being the ultimate decider on the issue.

While I'm generally supportive of the Democratic Party, I also feel that independents should have their place within the legislature as well. Party politics often cater to one of two interests, oftentimes leaving out other voices with equally valuable ideas and debates.

Yet Cullen's move to leave the party seems less admirable than that. It wasn't his independent streak (which he's openly exercised as a Democrat before) that caused him to leave the party and to shake things up in the Senate. Rather, it was a decision based on vanity, on a response to a move by the party to neglect him when forming committee assignments.

In retrospect, it was probably an unwise move to disrespect Cullen in that way. Including a moderate among those that control the Senate committees not only could have appeased the senator but could have been a politically advantageous move as well.

Still, Cullen's response goes beyond the offense committed by the Democrats. Imagine if every senator in the Democratic caucus behaved this way because they didn't get their preferred seating. There would never be a functioning Senate, and the Republicans could potentially take control of leadership again.

Cullen's selfishness, so unbecoming and unusual for the ordinarily cooperative senator, has tainted the hard work it took for recall organizers to win back the "upper house" of the state legislature.

UPDATE: Apparently, a chairmanship WAS offered to Cullen, which he turned down. The official statement from Sen. Mark Miller, Senate Democratic Leader:
"I am disappointed in Sen. Cullen and the decision he made today. Sen. Cullen turned down the chairmanship of the Committee on Small Business Development and Tourism. He told me that if that was the committee offered to him, he would rather chair no committee at all. It was an important committee as small business is the economic engine for Wisconsin."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wisconsin loses 13,200 jobs -- is it working yet?

June jobs numbers show us once more that Walker's "reforms" fail to spur growth

Wisconsin's June job numbers were released last week (PDF), and the results are strikingly dismal.

According to preliminary numbers, the state lost more than 13,200 jobs last month, of which more than 11,700 came from the private sector. The losses are the worst in the nation for the month of June.

In all, from the start of the year to present date, Wisconsin has seen a net total of 3,100 jobs created. And while an overall positive growth is good, it's hardly a drop in the bucket when compared to last year's gains of more than 19,000 jobs. If 2012 keeps this pace up, we'll gain only a third of 2011's numbers, most of which came during a different governor's budget.

In fact, by the current governor's own numbers, 2012's "gains" merely lessen the blow of the first six months of his own budget. Scott Walker gave tax breaks to the rich and burdened the poor. As a result, the average Wisconsinite's purchasing power went down, resulting in less demand, and thus, less jobs.

The first half of 2011 (again, using Walker's own numbers) produced more than 40,000 jobs. But remember: that was under the previous administration's budget. The second six months of that year, when Walker's budget and reforms were implemented, saw a loss of more than 24,000 jobs. The 3,100 jobs added in the first six months of this year aren't enough to make up for those losses.

At the rate 2012 is going, it will take about 47 months (just under four years) simply to recoup the losses incurred by the second half of 2011.

And don't even ask about Walker's 250,000 jobs pledge, which he promised to accomplish in his first term of office. Even if we're generous, and count all of 2011's gains in his column, it will take another 180 months (15 more years) to reach that goal, going at the current pace over the past 18 months.

It's looking more and more likely that Wisconsin's biggest political regret will be that we didn't recall Gov. Walker when we had the chance to do so last month.

Friday, July 20, 2012

There exists a need for tighter gun laws in America

Restrictions on other rights exist...why not on gun rights?

In reading the following, many people are going to accuse me of making a political point out of a tragedy that occurred earlier this morning in Aurora, Colorado.

Let those who make that critical point have their say -- but I feel that it's no political matter. There's just as much a moral conjecture to be made, and at this point I'm frankly sick and tired of seeing members of my own generation lash out in (and be victims of) such deplorable and violent acts.

I say what I say here not because an opportunity has arisen to do so, but rather because the incident that occurred today needs to prevented from happening tomorrow.

A lone gunman let loose a small arsenal of weaponry upon a movie theater today, killing a dozen and injuring scores more. Theatergoers were expecting to see a movie about a masked hero, but instead were victims of a different, real-life masked man who clearly has psychological troubles.

That will be the expected defense of gun advocates -- "guns weren't the problem here, the man who committed these heinous acts was the problem," we will hear. It's the old saying that we're subjected to day-in and day-out on this debate: "Guns don't kill people; I do."

The point of that idiom is that it takes an individual, an actual person, to bring about such terrifying acts. Yet, in that mode of thinking we're left without consideration of the weaponry used. Certainly a handgun has a much smaller capability of bringing about violence than an assault weapon with a higher magazine count, but that consideration is tossed aside nonetheless.

We're led to believe, by passionate gun supporters, that it's a nearly all-or-nothing situation, that we're either allowed access to all weapons...or we live in tyranny. Any steps that infringe upon ownership, even if it's reasonable, are viciously attacked.

Regulations on gun ownership, both on whom can own guns and which weapons are permissible, should be rigorously debated. I do believe that the right to defend oneself is a natural one, and must be protected. A restriction of this liberty is an injustice, one that must not come to fruition.

But some of those vigorous defenders of the Second Amendment forget that restrictions exist elsewhere on other rights. And while those rights, though also vigorously defended, have understandable restrictions, gun enthusiasts fail to recognize that, hey, perhaps a Smith & Wesson AR-15 assault rifle isn't right for someone like James Eagan Holmes to own.

Perhaps a person shouldn't be able to shoot off dozens of rounds of ammunition before anyone can properly react to the events taking place.

Perhaps those who purchase guns need stronger background checks to determine their mental state, or perhaps we just need to regulate online gun purchases a little better.

Nay, say those defenders. The actions of a few aren't enough to restrict even the deadliest of weaponry. Disregard the fact that these events occur over, and over, and over again.

Clearly, something has to be done. I don't have the answer, and I'm not sure anyone ever will. There will be gun violence for as long as there will be guns. But there has to be a response to these acts of savagery. We cannot continue down this path of violence, of feeling pain when a loss of this magnitude occurs; but then simply shrug our shoulders and say, "the guy was crazy," and carry on with our lives

We can do better than this. Restrictions on some weapons can be made tighter, and some weapons may not be safe for societal use at all. Those restrictions are reasonable. If we can't yell "BOMB!" on an airplane, if we can restrict certain religious cults due to their abuse of others' rights, certainly a "rifle" that looks like this can be restricted a bit more:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Democrats take back the Senate, prevent GOP radicalism (at least, for a limited time)

Shift in power a change that must be defended between now and November

State Democrats officially took control of the Wisconsin Senate today, selecting Fred Risser as the Senate President and making various other committee appointments for the remainder of the term.

Democrats took control of the Senate after the latest round of recall elections. Though they failed to remove Gov. Scott Walker from office, they were successful in removing three Republican senators (two in 2011, and one last month) to gain a 17-16 majority. Additionally, one of the Republican sixteen is Sen. Dale Schultz, a moderate who has been known to vote with Democrats on certain issues as well, such as the collective bargaining bill and the proposed mining bill compromise.

The gains in the Senate may be short-lived, however -- in November, half of the "upper house" will be up for grabs once again, meaning that either Democrats or Republicans could hold the chamber by the time it meets again for its next session in 2013.

Still, the takeover is both symbolic AND practical. For starters, it shows that the people of Wisconsin aren't 100 percent behind Walker's plans for the state, that they want a split government that isn't focused on destroying Wisconsin values.

Beyond that, however, the change in leadership prevents Walker from calling a special session between now and January to pass even more extreme changes to our state. Had Democrats failed to win the Senate, there would have been nothing to stop Walker and his Republican allies from passing bills that espoused a radically conservative agenda. With Democrats in charge, such extremist bills can't pass without their consent.

The change from Republican-to-Democratic control is a welcomed one. Between now and November, however, the shift must be defended. We can't afford to give such control back to the GOP -- not while Scott Walker's running the show.

Should the Boy Scouts be allowed to discriminate?

Private organizations should face little interference when it comes to membership criteria

The Boy Scouts of America has decided to continue their ban on homosexual Scout leaders and members within their ranks.

After a secretive two-year review, the BSA concluded that "[the] policy is absolutely the best policy for the Boy Scouts." An 11-member board determined unanimously that it wouldn't change the organization's longstanding rules regarding gay or lesbian members.

Critics lashed out at the decision:
The president of the largest U.S. gay-rights group, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, depicted the Scouts' decision as "a missed opportunity of colossal proportions."

"With the country moving toward inclusion, the leaders of the Boy Scouts of America have instead sent a message to young people that only some of them are valued," he said. "They've chosen to teach division and intolerance."
Those are strong arguments of contention, valid points that the BSA shouldn't disregard lightly.

However, as a private organization, the BSA is and should be allowed to make its own rules regarding membership criteria. If it wants to ban gays from joining, it should be free to do so.

Whether or not it receives federal funding for doing so, however, should be up for contention. Federal law prohibits organizations that receive funding to discriminate against anyone if they're to use that money for charitable activities. While that still allows the BSA to limit who can join, it halts them from being able to discriminate whom they may serve through their various acts of goodwill.

In other words, if a Boy Scouts troop holds a food drive, it cannot distribute that food to only those who support its rules. It has to give that food to anyone in need of it.

And those grants, similarly, can be taken away, if the people pressure members of Congress enough to do so, through letter campaigns, phone calls, and even the ballot box, should they choose to base their vote in that way.

The right of an organization to create for itself its own rules should only be interfered with in extreme situations. Sadly, the Boy Scouts of America has chosen to continue to discriminate against gay and lesbian households despite national trends moving in the opposite direction.

I don't personally support the decision. But the way to create change through the organization lies not through laws or regulations -- at least in this instance -- but through other means that will compel the BSA to change. Boycotts of the group, their activities and their fundraising ventures may cause eventual change to come. More importantly, information, in the form of other venues outside of the BSA, is the key to changing society overall, including organizations that discriminate against gay and lesbian households.

Monday, July 16, 2012

House Republicans waste taxpayer dollars for political theater

Multiple votes on repealing health care law (Obamacare) serve no purpose

As the father of a four-year old child, I'm accustomed to repetition. When my son asks "why?" more than ten times in a row, or otherwise repeats himself in some way, it can be enough to drive me up the wall.

The way I remedy this is I calmly explain that once or twice is enough, that it's not necessary to ask that many times. He usually "gets it" right away. (Oreos are naturally distributed in a celebratory fashion.)

Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, can't seem to "get it" at all.

Last week, the House of Representatives once again voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (commonly called "Obamacare"). Knowing that the bill could never survive a Senate vote (much less President Barack Obama's veto pen), House Republicans nevertheless decided to waste your time and tax dollars anyway, citing the need to make a symbolic vote.

Such votes do indeed serve a purpose once or twice, or even five times. But this vote wasn't the fifth, the tenth, or even fifteenth time the GOP voted on the measure. It was the 33rd.

Taken together, the Republicans have wasted 89 hours and about $50 million in taxpayer dollars. And while conservatives in Congress have dedicated their focus towards ending Obamacare (without any real plans to replace it with ANYTHING), the issue they campaigned on in 2010 -- jobs -- has taken a backseat, behind this and other issues that were thought to have been resolved.

For a party that sadistically promotes austerity and budget cuts that affect the working classes of this country, the GOP seems to see no problem whatsoever when it comes to spending tax dollars on political theatrics.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Democratic outreach beyond traditional areas is sorely needed (UPDATE: Redaction)

A redaction -- Democrats were at the event, are on the right path towards fixing things

A redaction: It was brought to my attention earlier that Democrats did indeed have a booth at the Jefferson County Fair, within the Commercial building on the fairgrounds. As I stated in my original post, I didn't go out seeking either Party, yet I did notice the Republicans there and missed seeing the Democrats. However, I stated that I didn't see the Dems, and that I was disappointed by the fact that "it seemed as if the Democrats didn't even bother to reach out at all at the Jefferson County Fair."

That statement, as well as others in the original post (kept in its entirety below), was based on a broken assumption: that Democrats hadn't made an effort to outreach within the events at Jefferson County this past weekend. I maintain that in order to make gains, the Democrats need to make greater strides at events like these -- as an average "fair-goer" who wasn't looking for any party before showing up, it's still disheartening that I wasn't able to get information about the Democrats simply by walking the main strip of the fairgrounds.

Nevertheless, my original posting was wrong -- the Democrats WERE at the event, they HAD made efforts to be at a public forum. I was wrong, but there is a silver-lining that goes along with being errant in this particular case. I'm actually HAPPY to be wrong about this one -- it means that Democrats ARE taking recent losses seriously, and are working to correct the problem by reaching every Wisconsin community, not just the largest two.

Hopefully, by continuing to do so, they'll be able to make Wisconsin realize that the Republican vision for our state is leading us on a path of destruction.

I ventured eastward today, to the Jefferson County Fair. It was an enjoyable experience, a gratifying excursion that included rides, carnival games, food that I'll likely regret ingesting, and livestock of many varieties.

Walking around the fairgrounds, I noticed a man holding a sign for Mitt Romney. Though I didn't come to the fair to witness political activities, I did store this event in the back of my mind.

I knew it was typical for political parties to distribute literature and talk to people at such gatherings, so I didn't think much of it beyond noticing the event itself and carrying on with the festivities. I enjoyed the rest of the day, and even waved at the folks at the Republican Party booth later on.

I was saddened, however, when I was unable to find the Democratic Party's booth. I walked all over the fairgrounds, not necessarily actively looking for them -- I was enjoying a nice afternoon with my family, after all -- but keeping my eyes peeled nonetheless in hopes of maybe giving them a "thumbs up" to let them know that support was out there, even if it was from a guy from Dane County.

I may be mistaken. As I said, I didn't do a thorough search. But it seemed as if the Democrats didn't even bother to reach out at all at the Jefferson County Fair.

There may be reason why their presence was limited -- being neighbors to one of the reddest counties in the state (Waukesha), Jefferson didn't exactly carry huge numbers for Democrats in the recall election this year. In fact, Jefferson County voted 60 percent in favor of keeping Scott Walker in office, versus just under 40 percent in favor of his opponent. That was only a slight improvement from 2010, when Walker won in Jefferson County by 61 percent to Barrett's 38 percent.

A gain of only two percent is, understandably, a bit uninspiring. But missing the fair altogether was still a lost opportunity for the Jefferson Democrats. In a county where Barack Obama won by just over 350 votes against John McCain, there IS indeed potential for progressive wins in the area. It would take hard work, no doubt, but it's a goal that can be achieved, given the right conditions.

If Obama is going to go for a repeat in the county this year, he'll need the help of the Jefferson County Democrats to get out there and win it for him on the ground, as well as having a presence at events like county fairs and other public venues where political parties typically visit.

In fact, Democrats in ALL counties need to "step up their game." People ARE responsive to progressive issues if you take the time to talk about them. Polling shows that Americans support issues like health care reform, help for the disadvantaged, and taxing the wealthy a bit more when it's framed in a context outside of Republican talking points.

If areas like Jefferson aren't hearing the Democratic Party's side, they're only going to vote the direction of a message that they're exposed to. And right now, the Republican Party is making strides in areas the Dems should be taking advantage of.

The simple point is this: while traditional strongholds are important, elections in Wisconsin aren't won in Dane or Milwaukee Counties alone. Conversely, they're not won in Waukesha or Washington Counties either. They're won in areas where the tide is prone to shifting, where every bit of influence matters.

Reaching out to people in counties like Jefferson is the first step to turning things around in Wisconsin. It's an action that needs earnest consideration by the Wisconsin Democrats if they're serious about winning, in the short- and long-term.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

State Democrats take control of the Senate

But control of chamber may be short-lived following elections in the fall

Following a lengthy recount of the recall election that had been attempting to remove him from office, GOP Sen. Van Wanggaard finally conceded defeat today after it was clear his opponent, Democrat John Lehman, won by 819 votes.

Wanggaard had made charges that the election was riddled with voter fraud. Yet despite what he calls "mountains of evidence," the Republican senator said that he couldn't make a case within five days from the certification of the recount, and has yet to produce anything substantial to fit his claim.

The electoral difference between Wanggaard and Lehman was 1.1 percent, a very close election to be sure. But to put things into perspective, when JoAnne Kloppenburg lost to sitting Justice David Prosser last year, that election was within 0.48 percent.

At that time, there was no shortage of conservative voices calling for Kloppenburg to concede the election (1, 2, 3), even though she was within the threshold legally allowing her to have a recount performed by the state. Conversely, Wanggaard WASN'T within that threshold, meaning that the senator had to pay a filing fee of more than $600. However, taxpayers were still saddled with the bill for his recount -- and yet, the right was relatively silent about it.

Just a bit hypocritical, if you ask me.

Still, with the victory by Lehman the Democrats officially take hold of the Senate chamber by a 17-16 margin. (It should also be noted that one of those 16 Republicans is moderate Dale Schultz, who has shown he's not afraid to buck his party's stances every once in awhile.)

The new Senate prevents Gov. Scott Walker from pushing forward a special session during the next few months. Previously, Walker had the ability to call for a session and pass more of his conservative agenda with a Republican-controlled legislature. The split legislature -- Republicans controlling the Assembly and Democrats the Senate -- prevents such an action from occurring.

But the situation as it stands now may only be temporary. With 2012 being another election year, the Senate is once again up for grabs. State senators serve four-year terms, with half of the senate seats being up for grab every two years...meaning this November, the chamber may change hands once more.

The Democrats will have a lot of work to do if they're to retain control. For now, however, there's reason to celebrate: Scott Walker, at least temporarily, cannot receive a rubber-stamp from a radically conservative legislature.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A lesson on taxation: middle class tax cuts work better

Infusion of capital into the economy more likely under tax plans that benefit the bottom 80 percent

The debate over tax increases for the wealthy is likely to stir up some strong emotions for many across the country during the remainder of the presidential election year. With President Obama indicating that he's still on board with letting the Bush tax cuts expire for those earning over a quarter of a million dollars (and most of the country supporting his opinion), opposition to such a plan will be fierce and passionate, even if it's only opposed by a vocal minority.

Those that are against Obama's plan make several claims that just don't hold up. They make threats that it's socialism. They contend any tax increase would cripple an already fragile economy. And, perhaps the most ludicrous claim of all, they defend the extremely wealthy as job creators, adding that if we tax the top two percent that we can kiss job creation good-bye.

Those claims, however, are rooted in fears that frankly aren't going to materialize. A modest tax increase won't turn us into Soviet Russia. In fact, our economy thrived under higher tax rates during the Clinton administration, AND we were able to create budget surpluses as a result of the increased revenue.

Arguing that tax increases will stifle job growth is similarly flawed logic. Jobs are tied to demand for a product, not the personal finances of CEOs or business-owners. If demand is high, more workers will be needed to generate more products, which will in turn create greater profits for the company.

Increasing taxes on the rich will have zero effect on the jobs situation because an increase will only affect the individual's income, not their business's. Indeed, tying those two together makes no sense at all -- plenty of CEOs have made millions of dollars while their companies have floundered and workers were laid off.

Furthermore, the top two percent will still have tremendous spending power when they start to pay a more fair share of taxes. The economy won't suffer any worse because, to put it bluntly, the wealthy aren't the class that determines the economic health of the nation -- rather, it's the middle class that does.

Getting more income into the hands of the middle class, even if it's a substantially lower amount at the individual level than what their wealthy counterparts might receive, drives the economy more than "trickle down" economics ever could. Think about it: the wealthy can already make substantial purchases with their incomes, and this won't change with a minor tax increase. Conversely, putting even just a few hundred dollars in the hands of middle class workers WILL put significantly more capital into the economy.

An example may provide a better understanding of what I'm getting at. Suppose a country with 100 million workers is proposing tax cuts for either the working class or the top two percent. The question is this: will a $500 tax rebate for 80 percent of the population yield greater returns for stimulating the economy than, say, $10,000 for the rich?

The answer is yes, as demonstrated below:

Though a working class individual would receive a tax break 20 times less than the amount a wealthy individual would get under this scenario, the middle class as a whole would be able to infuse twice as much capital into the economy under this plan.

Additionally, that capital would more likely be spent while in the hands of the middle class versus the incredibly wealthy, who are more likely to invest or save capital rather than actually spending it on tangible goods. Doing the latter is more likely to create jobs, affecting demand in a positive and direct manner.

The debate over whether we should tax the rich more will no doubt be a contentious one. But it's important to dispel the myths that doing so will be cataclysmic. Those myths will prevent our nation from making the proper decisions, from weighing the true pros and cons against one another rather than the made-up concerns of the wealthy elite, which are derived out of fear-mongering and the dissemination of false information.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Is the Domestic Partnership Registry unconstitutional?

Answer will depend upon what rights define a "substantially similar" relationship to "marriage"

An appeals court is requesting that the Wisconsin Supreme Court step in to determine the legality of Domestic Partnerships within the state.

At issue is whether the Domestic Partnership Registry conflicts with a Constitutional amendment that was passed in 2006 denying same-sex couples rights of marriage.

The amendment reads:
Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.
The Domestic Partnership Registry grants couples, both same- and opposite-sex (should the latter choose to enter a Domestic Partnership rather than a marriage), rights that are traditionally associated with marriage, but which may also be given to individuals outside of a committed relationship as well.

For instance, visitation rights may be conferred to anyone regardless of the relationship status. Inheritance rights can also be given to any two people without having to be romantically involved, as can end-of-life decisions. Many people have "power of attorney" rights with non-family members whom they have no "loving" affiliation with.

Domestic Partnerships, however, allow couples that don't or can't get married to have these legal protections afforded to them in a simple, one-step way.

Yet right-wing groups, like Wisconsin Family Action, contend that the law violates the second clause of the 2006 Constitutional Amendment, which forbids "a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals."

The State Supreme Court will ultimately have to answer two separate questions within this case, should the decide to take it. First, what defines a relationship that is "substantially similar" to marriage? Does a single aspect of a contract between two individuals make it "substantially similar," or does there have to be more than one defining features to make it so? In other words, what traits specifically make a contract between two individuals (under Article 13, Section 13 of the State Constitution) "substantially similar" to marriage?

That's the key question that the Court will face. The second question will be simpler because its answer will depend on the answer from the first question: does the Domestic Partnership Registry fit under the terms of a "substantially similar" relationship as defined by the Court? Put differently, is the Registry similar enough to a marriage to warrant its removal?

Should the State Supreme Court take on the case, it will likely rule in favor of Wisconsin Family Action, the right-wing organization appealing the decision of a lower court that allowed the Registry to stay in place. The current makeup of the Court skews conservative, and their biases will undoubtedly play a role in their decision-making process.

Yet, there's also a case to make that the law IS in violation of the Constitutional amendment, looking even beyond those biases. The Registry was designed specifically to grant same-sex couples in committed relationships the rights they deserve, rights that are in fact substantially similar to marriage. In doing so, Domestic Partners are entering an agreement that is, in many ways, similar to marriage.

Whether or not it's SUBSTANTIALLY similar is the question to ask -- and with hundreds of rights at the state level (and thousands more at the federal) that are conferred to married couples versus those in domestic partnerships (totaling 43 overall), a case can also be made that the Registry ISN'T "substantially similar" to marriage.

In short, the Registry simply confers a few rights rather than all the rights, or even a significant fraction of the rights that married couples enjoy.

Even if the Court finds the Registry unconstitutional, the debate here misses one crucial point: the amendment itself is a violation of basic human rights. Gay and lesbian couples deserve marriage rights, plain and simple.

A Domestic Partnership Registry is a good substitute for same-sex couples for as long as that discriminatory amendment remains on the books -- but as long as that amendment IS the law, our state is engaging in discrimination that unjustly and negatively affects many Wisconsin families without proper cause (beyond the discomfort of some pretentious right-wingers).