You might have read recently about the Indiana law that could make it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples. Passage of the measure, described by advocates as protecting basic religious freedom, drew fierce criticisms from around the country and threats of boycotts from all corners of the globe. The Indiana law, and similar measures such as those proposed in Arkansas and North Carolina, are allegedly modeled on a federal religious protection measure adopted in 1993 called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” which protects members of vulnerable religious minorities from punishment for the exercise of their beliefs. Advocates for equal rights recognize, however, that the Indiana law, and others like it, poses a threat of facilitating discrimination, especially from business owners who object to participating in same-sex weddings. This post describes the Wisconsin law which protects individuals from discrimination in public accommodation as well as recent attempts to pass legislation that would enable Wisconsin businesses to discriminate on the basis of religious freedom.


Section 106.52 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides that in places of public accommodation or amusement it is against the law to deny service or to give unequal treatment in service because of sex, race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry. “Public accommodations” includes, but is not limited to, hotels, motels, restaurants, taverns, retail stores, exercise clubs, dry cleaners, auto repair shops, and other service establishments. The law does not apply when a private, nonprofit organization provides goods or services to only its members or their guests. The City of Madison also passed a measure prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. Sec. 39.03(2)(dd). In short, Wisconsin prohibits business owners from denying you services on the basis of these protected characteristics, including sexual orientation.


While Wisconsin has an impressive history of prohibiting discrimination in places of public accommodation, recent efforts by the state’s Republican-led legislature have increasingly sought to undermine these vital protections. As recently as 2013, Wisconsin Republicans tried to pass legislation that would allow business owners to refuse service to those who offended their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Although this legislation did not pass, we must be vigilant to stop similar efforts to undermine the protections provided to all Wisconsinites.

In fact, as of today, April 14, 2015, the Wisconsin Assembly debated a Democratic resolution to preempt passage of an Indiana-style religious freedom legislation. The resolution, which unfortunately failed to pass, would have forced lawmakers to pledge “neither to endorse nor approve” any legislation or constitutional amendment that would explicitly or implicitly allow for discrimination based on age, race, religion, color, disability, sex, physical condition, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.


If you or someone you know has been denied services because of your sex, race, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, please contact Hawks Quindel, where experienced attorneys are waiting to assist you. The information provided above presents general information on citizen rights and is not intended to provide legal advice.

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Colin Good