PLATTEVILLE — In a move that adds fuel to a fiery statewide debate, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted Friday to oppose a state amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
The board took the formal stance as part of an effort to retain quality educators in the UW System, saying the amendment would hurt the chances of instituting domestic partners benefits in Wisconsin schools.
Regent Charles Pruitt, chair of the Business, Finance and Audit Committee, said his committee is concerned with the potential threats the amendment has.
"The language of this amendment creates uncertainty on the ability of employers to provide domestic partner benefits," Pruitt said at the meeting.
Pruitt said the board should not take stances on all political issues, but this is one the regents need to examine.
"This is an issue we could easily take a pass on," Pruitt said. "If this was a one sentence amendment, I think at least our committee would likely be urging you to do just that—take a pass, move on and consider something else."
The first sentence of the proposed amendment defines "marriage" as between a man and a woman. However, Pruitt said the topic of concern is the second sentence, which would prohibit the state from recognizing situations "identical or substantially similar" to that of a traditional marriage.
"The second sentence takes us directly to an issue that this board and I think this university system has decided is critically important for our ability to compete in the global economy—which is providing domestic partner benefits at least at some point in the future," he added.
Student Regent Chris Semenas spoke passionately in opposition of the amendment, saying the regent resolution would help in the board's efforts to better higher education in the state. "I'm concerned not because of my perspective," Semenas said. "I'm concerned for my friends and family members."
Semenas cited one of his former professors, a lesbian who challenged Semenas to think about what the amendment would do for younger staff members whom the university is trying to attract and retain in the state.
"I urge this board to approve this resolution today not because it's the fair thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do," Semenas said. "It's not about attracting people; it's about standing up for what's right."
Regent President David Walsh said he "appreciate[s] the committee's approach" to the issue and said the testimonies the Business, Finance and Audit Committee heard from state business representatives regarding domestic partner benefits prove "why this is the right thing to do."
Only Regent Charles Randall voted in opposition of the resolution.
The board's vote sparked immediate response from state legislators Friday afternoon, including Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who suggested the regents made a political move.
"In August, David Walsh sat in my office and swore that the board doesn't have a political agenda," Nass said in a release. "I may not be the most sophisticated member of the Legislature, but today's action to run interference for [Gov. Jim] Doyle certainly was political."
A poll released by WisPolitics.com last week said the majority of the state supports the gay marriage amendment. In a poll of 600 likely voters, 53 percent were in favor of the same-sex marriage ban, 39 percent were opposed and 8 percent were undecided.
The state will vote on the amendment on Election Day, Nov. 7.