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LGBT rights in Wisconsin
Wisconsin (US)
Wisconsin (US)
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1983
Gender identity/expression Altering sex on birth certificate requires sex reassignment surgery
Recognition of
Same-sex marriage legal since 2014
Domestic partnerships legal since 2009
Adoption Yes
Discrimination protections Yes (sexual orientation only)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the U.S. state of Wisconsin have many of the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals; however, the transgender community may face some legal issues not experienced by non-trans residents. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Wisconsin since October 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal in the case of Wolf v. Walker.

Wisconsin is also the first state to have an LGBT U.S. Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Wisconsin was part Michigan territory in 1836, when it adopted a prohibition on sodomy that applied to both heterosexual and homosexual sexual activities, excluding cunnilingus. The criminal prohibition was retained when Wisconsin became a state in 1848.[1] The definition was expanded to include fellatio in 1897 as well as the new crime of "taking improper liberties" with a minor.[2] In the 1950s, following a series of high-profile sex crimes, Wisconsin criminalized cunnilingus and increased the penalties for "sexual perversion". In 1959 the State barred persons convicted of "sexual perversion" from using an automobile or any vehicle requiring a license.[1]

In 1966, the Wisconsin Young Democrats approved a resolution urging "the abolition of all legal restriction on sexual relations between consenting adults which do not violate the rights of others", one of the first major political organizations in the United States to do so. Republican Gov. Warren P. Knowles referred to supporters of the resolution as "homocrats" and some Democrats of various ages distanced themselves from the language.[3]

In the 1970s, court challenges to the sodomy law on privacy grounds failed, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the law should not apply to private and consensual acts between a husband and wife. In 1976, the state repealed its ban on newspapers' covering sodomy trials. In 1977, the state reclassified consensual sodomy as a misdemeanor.[4]

In 1983, Wisconsin legalized private, non-commercial acts of sodomy between consenting adults.[5] In order to obtain sufficient votes among legislators, the bill stated that Wisconsin did not approve of "any sexual conduct outside of the institution of marriage."[6]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]


On June 6, 2014, Judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb of the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruling in Wolf v. Walker struck down the state's constitutional and legislative ban on same-sex marriage as violations the Fourteenth Amendment.[7] Her ruling was stayed until October 6, 2014, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in the case, allowing her ruling to take effect and ending Wisconsin's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples.[8]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

Wisconsin maintains a registry of domestic partnerships that provide same-sex couples with limited rights, specifically 43 of the more than 200 spousal rights afforded different-sex couples. The registry, Chapter 770, was established in 2009 by a provision included in the state's biennial budget bill and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Wisconsin's domestic partnership registry for same-sex couples does not grant two-parent adoptions. Wisconsin was the first state in the Midwest to enact a form of recognition for same-sex unions. Out of the several states that have bans on same-sex marriage and civil unions, Wisconsin was the first and only one to enact limited domestic partnerships.[9]

The registry survived a court challenge, originally Appling v. Doyle, that claimed it violated the state's constitutional amendment prohibiting the creation of a legal status "similar to that of marriage" for same-sex couples.[10] On July 31, 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case, now known as Appling v. Walker, that the registry was constitutional, citing statements made by proponents of the constitutional amendment at issue "that the Amendment simply would not preclude a mechanism for legislative grants of certain rights to same-sex couples".[11]

Wisconsin has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees since 2009.[12] In some jurisdictions, domestic partnership benefits for state employees have been expanded beyond those rights provided to other employees under the state's domestic partnership registry.[13]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Wisconsin's domestic partner registry does not grant parental rights, but same-sex couples may attain limited rights through a co-parenting agreement, which may not be enforceable, or another legal arrangement granted by state courts.[14]

Residents of Wisconsin may adopt as individuals without respect to sexual orientation and LGBT individuals have been granted joint adoption rights by certain jurisdictions. Second-parent adoption is not legal under the state's domestic partner registry.[15] Adoption agencies in Wisconsin will ensure that once a spouse in a same-sex relationship attains parental rights the other spouse receives comparable parental rights or full guardianship.[16][17]

Domestic partner benefits for state employees ensure that the dependents of one partner are covered by the other partner's health insurance.[18]

Since same-sex marriage became legal on October 6, 2014, the state has legalized joint adoptions for married same-sex couples.

Discrimination laws[edit]

Map of Wisconsin counties and cities that have sexual orientation and/or gender identity anti–employment discrimination ordinances
  Sexual orientation and gender identity with anti–employment discrimination ordinance
  Sexual orientation with anti–employment discrimination ordinance

In 1982 Wisconsin was the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit and all public accommodations. When Republican Gov. Lee S. Dreyfus signed the law, he said that "It is a fundamental tenet of the Republican Party that government ought not intrude in the private lives of individuals where no state purpose is served, and there is nothing more private or intimate than who you live with and who you love."[19]

There are no state-level laws against discrimination based on gender identity.[20][21] The counties of Dane[22] and Milwaukee,[23] along with the cities of Appleton,[24] Cudahy,[24] Madison[22] and Milwaukee[22] ban discrimination based on gender identity.[25]

Hate crime laws[edit]

Wisconsin hate crimes law punishes violence based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.[26]

Although gender identity is not explicitly included in Wisconsin's hate crime legislation, perceived sexual orientation is often used as a medium to prosecute individuals whom act based on gender identity.[27]

Anti-bullying laws and policies[edit]

In 2001, Wisconsin legislators passed a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in any school setting.[28]

Any school in the state of Wisconsin that receives federal funding (regardless of being public or private) "are required by federal law to address discrimination on a number of different personal characteristics."[29]

Gender reassignment[edit]

Wisconsin allows a person born in the state who has completed sex-reassignment surgery to amend his or her birth certificate once documentation of the surgery and of a change of name is provided.[30]

A 2005 Wisconsin statute denying hormone therapy to prisoners undergoing sexual reassignment, the Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act, was ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous opinion in the case of Fields v. Smith by a three-judge panel of United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on August 5, 2011.[31]

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state's appeal of that decision on March 26, 2012.[citation needed]

Summary table[edit]

Domestic partnerships allowed Yes (2009)
Hospital visitation allowed Yes (2009)
Adoption allowed Yes (2014)
Employment discrimination prohibited Yes (1982)
Housing discrimination prohibited Yes (1982)
Hate crime legislation Yes (1988)
Bullying in schools prohibited Yes (2001)
Same-sex marriage Yes (2014)

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States - Wisconsin". Glapn.org. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  2. William N. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Laws in America, 1861-2003 (Penguin, 2008), 50, 54
  3. Wehrwein, Austin C. (April 10, 1966). "Freer Sex Plank Stirs Wisconsin". New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  4. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions, 201
  5. Eskridge, Dishonorable Passions, 219
  6. "Wisconsin Sodomy Law". Hrc.org. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  7. "Court overturns same-sex marriage ban". Retrieved June 6, 2014. 
  8. Liptak, Adam (October 6, 2014). "Supreme Court Clears Way for Gay Marriage in 5 States". New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  9. Forster, Stacey (July 1, 2009). "Wisconsin to recognize domestic partnerships". Journal Sentinel. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  10. "Wisconsin court upholds domestic partner registry". USA Today. December 21, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  11. DeFour, Matthew (July 31, 2014). "High court unanimously upholds Wisconsin domestic partner registry". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  12. National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  13. Weisberg, Louis (March 20, 2012). "Manitowoc adopts domestic partnership benefits". Wisconsin Gazette. Retrieved December 21, 2012. 
  14. Fair Wisconsin: [1], accessed April 8, 2012
  15. [2], accessed April 8, 2012
  16. Adoption Pride: [3], Accessed May 30, 2012
  17. Wisconsin Adoption Information Center: [4], Accessed May 30, 2012
  18. Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds: [5], accessed April 8, 2012
  19. Bauer, Scott (January 3, 2008). "Former Wis. governor Dreyfus dead at 81". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 22, 2012. 
  20. Human Rights Campaign: Wisconsin Non-Discrimination Law , accessed August 7, 2011
  21. "The Gay Rights State': Wisconsin's Pioneering Legislation to Prohibit Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation". Papers.ssrn.com. January 25, 2007. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "Cities and Counties with Non-Discrimination Ordinances that Include Gender Identity". Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved May 25, 2013. 
  23. Schultze, Steven (April 24, 2014). "Board approves sexual orientation, gender identity protections". Jsonline.com. Retrieved June 29, 2014. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Wisconsin city adopts ordinance banning bias based on gender identity
  25. "Gender Identity and Expression". Fair Wisconsin. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  26. Human Rights Campaign: Wisconsin Hate Crimes Law , accessed August 7, 2011
  27. Anti-defamation League: [6], Accessed April 8, 2012
  28. "Wisconsin School Laws | Human Rights Campaign". Hrc.org. March 14, 2007. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  29. StopBullying.gov: [7], accessed April 8, 2012
  30. Human Rights Campaign: Wisconsin Birth Certificate Law: Gender Identity Issues, accessed August 7, 2011
  31. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bruce Vielmetti, "Court upholds hormone therapy for transgender inmates," August 5, 2011, accessed August 7, 2011


MAP Equality Map[edit]


LGBT organizations[edit]

LGBT youth organizations[edit]

LGBT community centers[edit]

Higher education LGBT resource offices[edit]

Anti-LGBT Industry[edit]


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