In Wisconsin, same-sex couples began registering as domestic partners on Aug. 3. I wish them all happiness.
But my boyfriend of nine years and I won't be joining them.
The new state policy is being hailed by gay-rights supporters as a victory. Registered partners get real benefits, including inheritance protections and family leave.
But if it is a victory, it is a hollow one. Gay couples should have the same marriage rights as straight couples. The new arrangement grants only a fraction of the protections married couples get.
True, in a long-overdue development, the state now gives health-care benefits to domestic partners of state workers. But that's unrelated to the registry.
And gay couples still need to arrange for certain crucial protections, like health-care power of attorney. Indeed, Jen Bond, a local attorney familiar with LGBT legal matters, tells me, "I would still suggest to you and your partner, as well as all same-sex partners: Continue to get all the formal documentations executed."
I take no comfort in the Wisconsin Legislative Council's opinion that the registry probably can withstand legal challenges like the one filed a couple of weeks ago. The opinion just affirms the registry's weakness.
True, the domestic-partner registry is symbolically important. But do you know what else is symbolically important?
What the registry is not: marriage.
The new policy revives ugly memories of Wisconsin's bitter battle over gay marriage. In 2006, 59% of voters here approved a constitutional amendment banning it.
It was an embarrassing rout. I think opponents of the ban scarcely knew what hit them.
Prominent in the fight against the ban was Madison-based Fair Wisconsin. The group's largely positive campaign was overwhelmed by the briskly efficient, scorched-earth tactics of the amendment's well-funded supporters.
Gay-marriage foes had, frankly, a more powerful message. That's partly because fairness is not an especially rousing cry.
But gay-marriage opponents also succeeded because they made claims that were outrageously false and slanderous.
At an anti-gay-marriage event I covered in 2006, the Wisconsin Family Council's Julaine Appling raised the ugly specter of pedophilia, and statements on her group's website still associate homosexuality with child sexual abuse. When I interviewed Stoughton evangelical pastor Ron Dobie for that same 2006 article ("Rallying the Faithful"), he told me that if gay marriage is allowed, "We don't have any basis to say... bestiality is wrong."
These are appalling lies. They are what The New York Times' Frank Rich has called "the kind of blood libel that in another era was spread about Jews." If Wisconsin voters believed them, no wonder they voted for the amendment.
Political leaders on all sides of the spectrum should have denounced these attacks, loudly, over and over, as the destructive calumnies they were. If they had, the marriage vote might have turned out even a little differently, and the political landscape for Wisconsin gays might look different now. We might be less inclined to view the domestic-partner registry, introduced by Gov. Jim Doyle in the name of what he called decency, as anything but the sad compromise it is.
You know what I would actually find decent, as a gay man? Not being compared to pedophiles, for one thing, but also this: equality.
Or what's that great, rhetorically powerful word conservatives like, the one that's on the coins?
Supporters of gay marriage should forget limp half measures like the domestic-partner registry. They should fight for gay rights in the name of liberty.
Because that's what this is about.
Kenneth Burns is arts and entertainment editor of Isthmus.