RACINE — The city will offer the same benefits to city employees’ state-registered domestic partners as married couples get.

After two hours of debate and public input, the City Council voted 10-4 on Tuesday to approve the proposal granting the same standard benefits to city employees’ state-registered domestic partners and their children. The proposal would apply only to state-registered domestic partners, which according to state law are only defined as same-sex couples.

Aldermen who cast the four dissenting votes were: Jim Morgenroth, Sandy Weidner, Ron Hart and Jim Kaplan. Council President Greg Helding was excused from the meeting.

Weidner objected, saying she believed it will not be a negligible cost.

“This is going to be a cost,” she said, adding it’d be more appropriate to address the issue of domestic partner benefits in contracts.

Alderman Eric Marcus, who asked to be added as the third sponsor of the proposal, argued the economic impact is minimal and went on to say: “This isn’t about personal religious beliefs, it’s about equality and fairness.”

The council passed the proposal after narrowly rejecting a motion to send it to the Committee of the Whole for additional debate. Aldermen Bob Mozol and Melissa Kaprelian-Becker wanted the city to provide the same employee health benefits to state-registered domestic partners and their dependents as married couples. The Finance and Personnel Committee took that further to expand health benefits to “standard benefits.”

Racine Police Officer Christine Cronin had approached Mozol after her partner was denied coverage because the city’s health insurance plan defines an eligible dependent as the participant’s legal spouse or the child of the participant or the spouse. Instead of taking the issue to her police union, she said she wanted a citywide solution.

Currently, the city’s health insurance plan talks about “single” or “family” coverage and doesn’t have anything on the books to specifically address domestic partnerships because the issue apparently never came up before.

For budget purposes, the difference between family or single coverage is about $900 difference per month, according to Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney.

The county has 56 registered domestic partnerships as of the beginning of this month, according to the county Register of Deeds office.

Of the 16 people who spoke for 45 minutes during the public comments portion of the council meeting at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., a dozen spoke on the proposal. Of the dozen, the group was evenly divided, with six supporters and six opponents to the proposal.

Supporters, including representatives from Equality Wisconsin and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center of Southeastern Wisconsin, appealed for the city to be inclusive and value all employees equally. Opponents cited reasons like current budget constraints, religious beliefs, the Bible and more.

“This decision marks an important victory for fairness. Racine’s vision for creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace makes them a leader in our efforts to build a more fair and just state for all Wisconsinites,” stated Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin.

The constitutionality of the state’s domestic partnership registry that went into effect in August 2009, granting same-sex couples some of the same rights and legal protections guaranteed to married couples, is still being fought over in the courts.

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