LGBTQ+ lawmakers introduce marriage & parental rights bills in Wisconsin

Marriage Equality, Rainbow Rings
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The Wisconsin legislature’s LGBTQ+ caucus has introduced legislation seeking to officially recognize same-sex marriage and parentage in the state.

The Wisconsin Constitution has defined marriage as between one man and one woman since 2006, when 59% of voters approved an amendment to include the definition. For the LGBTQ+ caucus’s proposal to remove that language to succeed, it has to pass in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be passed by voters.

At a press conference reported on by the Wisconsin Examiner, state Sen. Mark Spreitzer (D) acknowledged that 2026 would mark the 20-year anniversary of the anti-LGBTQ+ amendment. “If we act now,” he said, “if we pass this constitutional amendment on first consideration this legislative session, we have the opportunity to let the people of Wisconsin repeal it before we hit that embarrassing 20-year anniversary.”

The Examiner noted that the caucus is also seeking to update Wisconsin adoption and parentage laws so that LGBTQ+ parents are seen as equal to heterosexual parents under the law.

Across the country, state laws do not provide sufficient protection for LGBTQ+ families. Confusing, complex, and outdated statutes have caused challenges for many queer people who want to be legally recognized as parents to their own children. As of now, queer parents are required to take extra steps – such as co-parent adoptions – to ensure they are legally bound to their children. 

For example, a report in Wisconsin Watch tells the story of Jamie Gaffke and her wife Ruth Vater, who had to spend $3,000 on a lawyer simply to get both of their names on their son’s birth certificate when he was born in 2014 because state law says the parents of a child conceived through artificial insemination are the mother and “husband of the mother.”

The caucus’s proposal seeks to change language referring to “husband and wife” to “spouses” in regards not only to parentage laws but also to income tax, insurance coverage, death benefits, and other areas of law.

The group introduced the legislation on December 13, the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden signing the Respect for Marriage Act. The law requires the federal and state governments to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed by other states.

The law became necessary after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which shared part of its legal framework with Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision that legalized marriage equality in all 50 states in 2015. Justice Clarence Thomas said that the Court should “reconsider” Obergefell in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned Roe v. Wade this past summer.

Some people oppose the bill because Wisconsin is already required to recognize same-sex marriage under federal law. But state Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D) is having none of that.

“This is making sure that all language reflects equality under the law – when it comes to marriage equality, when it comes to having children together in a relationship, in a marriage,” Snodgrass told local news channel WORT. “So to say that is incredibly dismissive and incredibly offensive. And people who make comments like that really do not think outside of their own experience and how it might impact some of the people in their community, in their neighborhood, and even in their family.”

During the press conference announcing the legislation, the LGBTQ+ Caucus members also slammed two anti-trans bills currently being considered by the legislature. Both seek to ban trans girls and women from playing sports on women’s teams.

The state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, has vowed to veto any anti-trans bills that cross his desk, but that hasn’t stopped the Republican-controlled state legislature from trying. “Republicans know all too well that these bills will be vetoed but continue to push their culture wars targeting Wisconsin’s transgender youth,” state Rep. Melissa Ratcliff (D) said at the press conference. “They’re trying to score political points by marginalizing our vulnerable youth.” 

So far, Evers has lived up to his words. Earlier this month, he vetoed legislation that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors.

“I promised I would veto any bill that makes Wisconsin a less safe, less inclusive, and less a welcoming place for LGBTQ folks and kids — and I keep my promises,” he wrote on X.

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