Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has included the creation of domestic partnerships for gay couples in his budget plan unveiled in Madison on Tuesday.

The measure is the first attempt by any midwestern state to extend even a limited number of protections for gay couples.

The Democratic governor's domestic partnership proposal seeks to extend limited protections to gay and lesbian couples including hospital visitation rights, power to make end of life decisions, and the right to inherit property, pensions and benefits.

In 2003, while serving his first term as governor, Doyle vetoed a bill passed with overwhelming Republican support that would have defined marriage as a heterosexual union. That did not stop gay rights foes, however, and by 2006 they had prevailed in amending the state's constitution.

The marriage amendment approved by voters clearly defines marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibits the state from creating “substantially similar” relationships.

Gay rights opponents say that the “substantially similar” clause will keep the bill from passing.

But Democrats, who now control the Legislature, gave Doyle a standing ovation.

“It is also time to make sure our state takes some basic steps towards fairness and decency,” Doyle said in his budget address to the Legislature. “This isn't an issue of being gay or straight – we are not judging people's lives here. But I don't want the state to stand in the way of someone being able to care for their long-term partner. And I don't want the state to be less competitive at our university and other institutions because we don't treat people fairly.”

“This is an important step toward ensuring that someone in a committed relationship is able to care for his or her partner,” Glenn Carlson, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, said in a statement. “No one should ever have to worry about being blocked at their partner's hospital room door, or have to make the heartbreaking decision to quit their job in order to care for a seriously ill partner. This isn't about being gay or straight – it's about being decent.”

“We commend Gov. Doyle for his leadership on this issue,” he added.

Openly gay Rep. Mark Pocan (Democrat) of Madison, the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, told local broadcaster NBC 15 that he believes the domestic partnership provisions will survive.

“It [the constitutional amendment] said you couldn't have something that was marriage or substantially similar,” Pocan said. “Having a simple domestic partnership entity created that provides hospital visitation and end of life disposal remains is hardly an equal balance. I think it will be just fine where it's at.”

In 1990, the city of Madison created a domestic registry for gay and lesbian couples, and in December, Dane County enacted a similar measure.