The first of the skirmishes is almost funny.
Two democratic state legislators, Senator Fred Risser (Democrat-Madison) and Representative Shelson Wasserman (Democrat-Milwaukee) proposed a bill last week that would allow mothers to breastfeed in any public place. The Right to Breastfeed Act, apparently, follows on a number of incidents where mothers discretely breastfeeding in public places were stopped from doing so.
The proposal is opposed by social conservatives, and is shaping up as a test of strength between Wisconsin Republicans, constrolled by social conservatives, and Democrats.
Not surprisingly, Julaine Appling, executive director of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, of course, has weighed in on the side of the angels: "Breastfeeding is very natural. However, I don't think that we need to have legislation that gives special sanction to it. Just because something is normal and natural — it doesn't mean we have to condone [it]."
Of course not.
I agree with Julaine about one thing, though: We really shouldn't need a law to encourage people to respect the most elemental relationship of human beings, the bond between mother and child. But then again, I think we have to recognize the reality that there are a lot of folks like Julaine floating around -- folks who "don't have to condone it" -- so we just can't count on human decency and human instinct to insure that the bond is repsected.
In the coming weeks, the Right to Breastfeed Act will be referred to and discussed by the Senate Health Committee, and we'll see where it goes from there.
Domestic Partner Benefits
More serious, in the long run, is the coming struggle over extending domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff in the University of Wisconsin system.
The University of Wisconsin, unlike many major universities, does not offer domestic partner benefits similar to those offered by the Fortune 500. The University wants the benefits to stay competitive, but the legislature has rejected them in the past over concerns about their cost.
It isn't just smoke and mirrors, either. In the aftermath of the anti-marriage amendment, several major gay and lesbian resesearchers have moved out of the University of Wisconsin system, taking millions in grant money with them to other states.
In December, the University's Board of Regents formally requested the Governor to include domestic partner benefits in the University's budget, noting that nearly 300 other colleges and universities nationwide and 13 state governments — including Iowa and Illinois — provide domestic partner benefits.
The governor did so, and the fight is on.
This year, the battle is shaping up over cost and, of course, gay and lesbian rights.
Representative Mark Gundrum (Republican-New Berlin), who authored the anti-marriage amendment, opined that the proposal is "just part of a gay rights agenda."
Representative Steve Nass (Republican-Whitewater), who chairs the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee, said that the proposal should be removed from the budget and discussed through separate legislation because it is a huge policy decision that undermines marriage. And so on.
Julaine, meanwhile, is marshaling the troops.
In her February 12 radio commentary, "Political Agendas can be Dangerous", Appling had this to say:
"The bottom line in all of this is that the government should not be doing anything to promote any kind of sexual relationship outside of marriage. They help no one, and hurt most everyone. It’s one-man/one-woman marriage that benefits society; not cohabitation, be it same-sex or opposite sex. ... Why should government, using our taxpayer money, promote these sexual relationships outside of marriage? [Y]ou and I will need to speak up loudly and clearly and let the governor and the legislature know we want no part of this agenda."
It will be a test. The Republicans are going to stand firm, and the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin will hold their hands to the fire. Count on it.