Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) signed a bill yesterday that allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners and thus gain certain rights like hospital visitation and survivor benefits. As an erstwhile Cheesehead, who met my now-spouse while we were both graduate students at UW-Madison, this comes as happy news.

Wisconsin is, in fact, the first state to offer such benefits after enacting a constitutional amendment that bans both marriages and civil unions for same-sex couples. Let’s review:

  • A domestic partnership in Wisconsin offers limited rights, but civil unions are unconstitutional.
  • In New Jersey, civil unions are the same as domestic partnerships in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
  • In California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, domestic partnerships are equivalent to marriages in all but name.
  • New Jersey domestic partnerships are still around, however, for same- or opposite-sex couples over 62 years old, and for those who registered before February 19, 2007. They get an extensive but not marriage-equivalent set of rights and benefits.

Would Wisconsin recognize a California domestic partnership, but not a New Jersey civil union, which is equivalent in all but name? Would they recognize California domestic partnerships of same-sex couples, but not the marriages of the 18,000 couples who wed there before Prop 8 was upheld? That old line about roses doesn’t quite seem to hold.

Yes, I know a lawyer could tell me the answers. Point is, though, one would need a lawyer to do so. I’m thinking of inventing a secret decoder ring that translates one’s relationship status into whatever it happens to be in that state. Of course, in most states it would still come up blank.

Much as this makes me grumble, though, I do find something satisfying in the fact that a state with constitutional bans like Wisconsin has made as much progress as it has. On, Wisconsin.