Marriage Equality USA

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State of Wisconsin
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Current Status

  • Civil marriage equality in effect at the state level since October 2014. (Same-sex couples may legally marry.)


  • Since 1979, statute 765.01 has defined marriage as: Marriage, so far as its validity at law is concerned, is a civil contract, to which the consent of the parties capable in law of contracting is essential, and which creates the legal status of husband and wife.
  • In 1982 Wisconsin was the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit and all public accommodations.
  • In 2001, Wisconsin legislators passed a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in any school setting.
  • Since 2002, Wisconsin hate crimes law has punished violence based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.
  • In 2003, legislation banning same-sex marriage was passed by the Wisconsin legislature. Governor Jim Doyle vetoed it and the Assembly failed to override the Governor's veto by one vote, on November 12.
  • In 2006, an amendment to the state constitution was passed banning same-sex marriage and prohibiting the establishment of any similar legal status under another name.
  • Since 2009, Wisconsin statute 770 has provided domestic partnerships (with limited rights) to same-sex couples.
  • In 2012, Wisconsin became the first state to have an LGBT U.S Senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin.

Legislation - Pending


Legislation - Enacted


Lawsuits - Pending

Torres v. Rhoades

Date Filed: 13 May 2015
Case #: 15-cv-288
Court Level: Federal District Court
Date of Appeal:



Lawsuits - Resolved

Bloechl-Karlsen v. Walker

Case #: 14-CV-627
Court Level: Federal District Court
Date Filed: 17 September 2014
Ruling Date: 18 December 2014


  • 17 September 2014, the ACLU of Wisconsin filed suit on behalf of four same-sex couples who were legally married in Wisconsin after a federal court struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples, but before the judge temporarily halted marriages from taking place while the state challenged the decision. Although the marriages were valid, the state has announced that it has placed recognition of their marriages on hold indefinitely.
  • The case has been assigned to Judge Barbara B. Crabb, the same judge who struck down the state's marriage ban in Wolf v. Walker. 
  • 13 October 2014, Gov. Scott Walker's administration ordered that the roughly 500 same-sex couples who married in June will have their partnerships recognized by the State of Wisconsin and some couples will be able to amend past tax returns. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said his administration would now treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same for issuing wedding licenses and "determining the rights, protections, obligations or benefits of marriage." Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said Walker's latest action should help resolve this lawsuit. "We still plan to seek an enforceable agreement or judgment, so we'll have a remedy if they are not good to their word. But I think this does mean things should wind down quickly," he said.
  • 18 December 2014, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case: "[B]ased on the State’s representations that it intends to accord the marriages of same-sex couples who solemnized their marriages between June 6 and 13, 2014, all of the same privileges and rights accorded to the marriages of opposite-sex couples, Plaintiffs hereby file this Notice Of Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice. ... Plaintiffs reserve the right to reinstate this action in the future on any grounds that they deem in good faith to be just and proper."
Wolf v. Walker

Case #: 14-278 (SCOTUS); 14-2526 (7th Circuit Court of Appeals); 3:14-cv-00064 (District Court)
Court Level: 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Date Filed: 3 February 2014
Ruling Date: 7 October 2014


  • 3 February 2014, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit for 4 couples challenging the 2006 WI ban on same-gender civil marriage or civil union, and WI's unique ban on marrying elsewhere, for which each spouse faces up to $10,000 in fines and 9 months in prison as soon as they return to WI.
  • 28 February 2014, the ACLU added 4 more couples to the suit, bringing the total to 8 couples, and asked for an injunction against the WI same-gender civil marriage ban while the lawsuit is pending.
  • 6 June 2014 U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the prohibition on same-sex vows in the state violated the rights of gay and lesbian couples to equal protection under the federal constitution and fair treatment under the law. She did not stay her ruling, but also did not immediately issue an order blocking the enforcement of the ban. 
  • 4 September 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a unanimous decision affirming the lower court decisions overturning the Indiana and Wisconsin bans on marriage equality. 
  • 6 October 2014, SCOTUS declined to take any of the 7 marriage equality cases from 5 states on appeal, including this one. See page 40 of the order. The 7th Circuit's September 4th ruling stands. 
  • 7 October 2014, Order by the District Court was issued dissolving the stay.
  • 12 December 2014, plaintiffs file for an award of $1,237,623.00 in attorney’s fees, $6,181.83 in out-of pocket expenses, and $3,099.95 in costs, for a total of $1,246,904.78. Brief in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees, Costs, and Expenses. Defense brief in opposition is due 5 January 2015
  • 13 December 2014, Lawyers who fought Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban seek $1.2 million in legal fees - AP
  • 2 February 2015, Judge Crabb rejected the defendants' request to further delay briefing on plaintiffs' motion for fees and costs: "Because defendants have already received one extension and filed their motion for a stay only three days before their response was due, I anticipate that defendants will not request additional extensions in the absence of extraordinary circumstances." Kathleen Perrin of EQCF says, "Some days, it must be fun to be a judge."
Braun v. Abele

Case #:
Court Level:

Date Filed: June 2014
Ruling Date: 18 August 2014


  • Bob Braun filed a $10,000 lawsuit against Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and three other county clerks for issuing same-sex marriage licenses after U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage on 6 June 2014. (Crabb's ruling is stayed pending appeal.) Abele allotted overtime for county clerks to fulfill marriages. He even paid for the overtime costs out of his own pocket after couples rushed to the courthouse following Crabb's ruling.
  • Braun claimed the county's decision to issue the licenses violated the public's civil rights and ignored the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
  • 18 August 2014, a Milwaukee County judge disagreed, saying Braun's lawsuit failed to state a claim proving that. The judge dismissed the suit saying Crabb could have issued orders at the time of her ruling, but did not, which put no restrictions on issuing licenses.
  • No appeal filed as of October 2014.

Ballot Initiatives - Pending


Ballot Initiatives - Passed



  • On 21 May 2014, Marquette Law School reported that 48% of 805 registered WI voters polled supported marriage equality, 24% supported only civil unions, and 24% supported no legal recognition for same-sex couples, with 4% unaccounted for. Separately, regarding the 2006 constitutional ban on same-gender civil marriage, 59% would repeal it, and 36% would continue it, with 5% unaccounted for. Poll Details
  • On 24 April 2014 Public Policy Polling released results showing that for the first time they found a plurality of voters in Wisconsin in favor of marriage equality with 47% in support and 45% opposed. Poll Details