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ACLU Report Finds Paul Ryan Light Years Away from Civil Liberties – news from

17 Aug

The following blog post was taken from an August 11 post on  ACLU Liberty Watch, a website of the ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 campaign being run by the American Civil Liberties Union. Visit to learn more about the ACLU’s civil libertarian take on all of the news surrounding the Presidential election campaigns. 

In response to Mitt Romney’s announcement of his vice presidential pick of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the American Civil Liberties Union Liberty Watch 2012 campaign released a brief report that reveals an appalling civil liberties record for Ryan.

The report finds that Ryan, the congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st District, holds almost uniformly harmful views on five key civil liberties issues including a humane immigration policy, LGBT equality, reproductive rights, torture and indefinite detention and fair voting access. The report is based on the white paper released by ACLU Liberty Watch 2012, which can be viewed here.

The report was also cited in a recent opinion piece in The Nation where writer Ben Adler called Rep. Ryan out for not really following Ayn Rand’s philosophies on freedom when it came to his staunchly social conservative agenda.

“Paul Ryan may end up a heartbeat away from the presidency but he’ll be light years from civil liberties,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “Paired with Romney’s already-abysmal record on civil liberties, Ryan’s positions only take this ticket further from the vision of our founding fathers.”  Romero also issued a statement about how Vice Presidential hopeful Ryan would have a plan to unravel civil liberties.

The report found that Ryan held anti-civil liberties positions across all five issue areas.  Below are some highlights from the report.

On immigration, Ryan voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. On LGBT equality, he voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In 2011, Ryan voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs. In addition, he believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s positions:  These positions were taken from the candidate’s public statements, published positions and actions taken as an elected official, including his most recent voting records, where applicable.
On Immigration:
  • Believes efforts should be focused on border security and that pursuing the DREAM Act at this time would be a “serious mistake” (2012).
  • Voted in favor of the Secure Fence Act, a bill that authorized the building of a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border (2006).
On LGBT Equality:
  • Voted against repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (2011).
  • Supports the 2006 amendment to the Wisconsin constitution banning marriage equality (2006).
  • Voted in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment (2004, 2006).
On Reproductive Freedom:
  • Voted to reinstate the D.C. abortion ban and the Global Gag Rule, defund Planned Parenthood, and eliminate funding for Title X family planning programs (2011). 
  • Cosponsored a bill that exempted any employer from providing contraceptive coverage as part of their employees’ health care and opposed the Obama administration’s compromise to require insurance companies to cover contraception (2011).  
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the Protect Life Act (2011). 
  • Cosponsored and voted to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (May 2011). 
  • Voted to prohibit federal funding for abortion care training in health care centers. (May 2011) 
On Torture and Indefinite Detention Policy:
  • Voted against defense legislation that authorizes the president to send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial (2011).
On Voting Rights:
  • Believes discriminatory voter ID laws are important and improve integrity in elections (2012).

ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the this year’s presidential election. Follow Liberty Watch on Twitter: @ACLULW, or ‘Like’ the Facebook page:

A is for ACLU and Avenue Q

2 Aug

Tickets on sale now…

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, in partnership with Skylight Music Theatre, presents a special preview of the Milwaukee premiere of Avenue Q!

Join us on Thursday, September 20 for an evening of irreverent fun and free expression. Thursday night is the final, full-dress rehearsal for Avenue Q and a limited number of seats will be sold to benefit the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

When – September 20, 2012:

6:00 p.m. – Reception – cocktails and ample hors d’oeuvres

7:30 p.m. – Avenue Q in the Cabot Theater

Where – Skylight Music Theatre:

Broadway Theatre Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202

Tickets for the September 20 event are on sale now! Buy tickets online or if you cannot make the event, consider making a donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation.

Find more about the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q on their website.

Winner of three Tony Awards including Best Musical and written by the composer of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q is a hilarious adult-themed spoof of Sesame Street. Part flesh (human), part felt (puppets) and packed with heart, Avenue Q tells the story of Princeton, a recent college grad who moves into a shabby NYC apartment in the only neighborhood he can afford, all the way out on Avenue Q. He soon discovers that the residents of his building are not your ordinary neighbors. Together, Princeton and his new friends struggle to find decent jobs, stable relationships and a purpose in life, but ultimately realize the real world isn’t so bad after all.

This event is made possible by:

Birch Lodge Fund of

the Cream City Foundation

Pam Kriger

 Johnson & Pabst

LGBT Humanity Fund

of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

Host Committee:

Ross Draegert & Robert Starshak

Paul Fairchild

Pam Kriger

Jennifer Morales

Joseph Pabst

Louis Weisberg

Paul Williams

Transgender People’s Right to Access Medical Treatment in Prison Upheld by Federal Court

8 Aug

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit today upheld the right of transgender people to receive medical care while they are incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal had challenged a Wisconsin law that prohibited prison doctors from prescribing hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery to transgender inmates.

“This was a discriminatory law that cruelly singled out transgender people by denying them – and only them – the medical care they need,” said John Knight, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are. We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.”

The appeals court wrote: “Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid enological purpose and amounts to torture.”

In 2005, the state of Wisconsin passed a law that barred prison doctors from providing transgender inmates medically necessary hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery while in state custody. The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal sued the state on behalf of transgender inmates, some of whom had been receiving hormone treatment in Wisconsin prisons for years. An injunction was granted to continue hormone treatment until a ruling was made. In April 2010, after a full trial, a federal district court struck down the so-called “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act.”

“The court correctly ruled that denying prisoners medical treatment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal’s transgender rights attorney. “The medical needs of transgender people don’t disappear once they enter prison. We’re glad that the court has ruled that the legislature cannot outlaw the only effective treatment for some people with Gender Identity Disorder.”

“This decision should make it abundantly clear that it is unconstitutional to deny transgender inmates hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery absent a medical basis for doing so,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Read more about this case including the text of the court’s decision on the American Civil Liberties Union Fields v. Smith case profile page or on Lambda Legal’s case page.

Media coverage of the court victory included stories in the Wisconsin State Journal (AP wire stories ran in Chicago, the Twin Cities and other areas in the country), Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Advocate, the Wall Street Journal law blog and LGBT-related blogs around the country.

WI Domestic Partner Registry Not a Violation of State Same-Sex Marriage Ban

20 Jun

Judge Daniel Moeser resoundingly rejected today an attack on Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Registry brought by Board members of Wisconsin Family Action, an organization whose members pushed for Wisconsin’s anti-Marriage constitutional amendment in 2006. Despite securing passage of the amendment by assuring voters that domestic partnerships would still be allowed, the Wisconsin Family Action plaintiffs asserted that the anti-Marriage amendment prohibited the Domestic Partner law passed by the legislature in 2008 to provide crucial but very limited protections to same-sex couples.

“While, as the court recognized, the domestic partnership law is in no way equivalent to marriage, it is a lifeline for committed couples who seek the security and dignity of being able to provide for their families,” said John Knight of the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS project.

In a well-reasoned 55-page opinion, Judge Moeser noted that proponents of the anti-Marriage amendment had repeatedly insisted that the amendment was about preventing same-sex marriage and “look-alike” civil unions that were marriage in everything but name, and reassured voters that it would not prevent domestic partnership laws.

The Judge also recognized that the few protections available under the Domestic Partner law were in no way comparable to the extensive rights and privileges that go along with marriage. Wisconsin’s law allows for same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, granting them hospital visitation rights, the right to make certain decisions about medical care and rights to family and medical leave. Same-sex couples are still denied crucial protections provided only to married couples, such as the right to decide what happens to their partner’s body at death, and are denied access to all federal benefits, such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

Larry Dupuis, the legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, added, “The court rightly rejected this mean-spirited and dishonest attack on gay and lesbian couples.  Our clients know what it’s like to worry about not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to be left with nothing when a partner dies without a will.  The protections offered by the domestic partner law at least allay some of those fears.”

Government officials initially defended the domestic partner registry against the lawsuit, but Governor Scott Walker’s administration abandoned the defense.  That left several same-sex couples, Fair Wisconsin, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU as a friend of the court, to defend domestic partnerships.

Attorneys on the case include Knight of the ACLU, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin and David J.B. Froiland, Linda E.B. Hansen, Daniel A. Manna and David B. Goroff of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Please visit the ACLU’s Appling v. Doyle page for more information on our involvement in this challenge including support documents such as our amicus brief. You can also find a link to the full text of the Circuit Court Judge’s decision on the ACLU of Wisconsin website.

News coverage of today’s breaking news was included in newspapers statewide including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin Gazette, Reuters, AP, the Chippewa Herald and the Capital Times. The AP story also ran in the Washington Post.

Gay-Straight Alliance in West Bend School Approved – But It Shouldn’t Take a Lawsuit to Support LGBT Youth

16 Jun

On Monday, the board of the West Bend School District narrowly voted in favor of allowing a Gay-Straight Alliance at their high school. The ACLU of Wisconsin was there to live-tweet from the meeting (you can see the tweets on the @ACLUofWisconsin Twitter page). Many LGBT rights advocates are applauding the victory this week. Unfortunately, the school board’s narrow vote came about, not because it was simply the right thing to do for equality and freedom of expression and association, but because a potentially costly lawsuit has forced them to acknowledge that the law is against them.

When the school board originally voted in May to not allow the club official recognition, lawyers on behalf of students who wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal district court to overturn the board’s decision on the basis that it violated both federal equal access protections and first amendment rights.  As a public school that receives federal funding, the West Bend School District must not have policies that discriminate against students or deny them basic rights.

Students at West Bend have been trying to organize a GSA for nearly a decade but have faced one barrier after another (the legal complaint tells the students’ compelling story). It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the school board to make a decision that recognizes all student clubs. But their decision could have been better. They could have voted unanimously in support of the club. They could have taken a strong public stand against discrimination and bullying.

On Monday, the West Bend School Board barely approved a decision that should have been made in support of their diverse student body back in 2000. But from this point on, we expect the best in accommodation and support for the GSA in West Bend. The West Bend School district needs a real process to not just approve but cultivate student clubs and promote leadership development in a way that is clear, fair and consistent. Teachers who champion diversity should be applauded, not criticized. Perhaps school board seats in the future will be filled by community members who represent and protect all students, rather than a narrow ideology.

The school board vote got media coverage on the AP wire, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TMJ-4, Fox News 6 (both with video) and WISN. The Department of Education also recently reminded public schools that Gay-Straight Alliances have the right to organize.

“Sensitive Issues:” Myths vs. Facts about the new Sex Ed Law

27 Oct

Sex Ed in Wisconsin: New State Standards
The Healthy Youth Act, a new law passed earlier this year that the ACLU of Wisconsin supported, raises the state standards for how public schools offer human growth and development courses. Now if schools offer sex ed, it should be non-discriminatory, fact-based, age-appropriate, and comprehensive in covering the benefits and function of FDA-approved methods of birth control. The comprehensive approach to sex ed is the most effective way to teach young people the facts about human sexuality so that they can make healthy choices in their adolescence and into their adult lives.

Since the new law was passed, and in the wake of the Cedarburg School District decision to segregate “sensitive issues” by requiring parents to opt their children into a comprehensive program, opponents of the Healthy Youth Act have promoted myths about the rights of parents and schools. Cedarburg’s decision has been criticized by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, by a physician and Cedarburg curriculum advisory committee and the District of Public Instruction.

And yet, social conservatives like op-ed writer Patrick McIlheran (in his Journal Sentinel column), GermantownNOW blogger Al Campbell and Charlie Sykes (on his October 19th show – part 3) are calling the new law an “oppressive” effort for the state to take power away from parents and school boards.

The Myth of Decreased Parental Control
First, critics suggest that parents don’t have control over their kids’ education regarding sex ed. The Healthy Youth Act continues to protect the right of parents to exempt their children from material they find objectionable. When a school district has a clear plan for human growth and development lessons, parents have the power to work with the school to make alternative arrangements. Additionally, the new law gives parents greater power in reviewing the curriculum at any time. Schools have the responsibility to ensure that exempted students have an equal, alternative assignment and do not face any grade penalty or discrimination for opting out. It is also common for parents to serve on the local school board’s curriculum advisory committees, as they do in the public meetings in Cedarburg. Parents’ rights and voices continue to be protected in the new law. But the law recognizes that young people and our state’s public health benefit when complete information about sexual health is offered to all students in our schools.

The Myth of Decreased Local Control
Critics also say that the law decreases local control over a school’s curriculum. This is hardly the case. The law raised state standards to ensure that young people receive information about reproduction and relationships that is comprehensive, fact-based and non-discriminatory. However the decision on how curriculum is designed and taught continues to rest in the hands of the instruction advisory committees and the school board members themselves. The Healthy Youth Act doesn’t require schools to teach human growth and development, but then schools would have to inform parents about the lack of education their children would receive. While evidence-based curricula packages are available to schools, the state Department of Public Instruction’s website has a toolkit that has resources for both schools and parents to teach human growth and development that works for their community. The state law outlines definitions but does not mandate a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

The Myth of Explicit Classroom Instruction
Reading opinion from social conservatives, one might think that the Healthy Youth Act is mandating that our local schools peddle pornography to children. But when the voices of criticism of comprehensive sexuality education come from radical, anti-contraception organizations like Pro-Life Wisconsin, misinformation needs to be countered with basic facts about the language of the new law.

The state law says that instruction must be “medically accurate” which means that it is based in science, approved by major medical journals and that instruction is reviewed by experts. Instruction must be “age-appropriate” or “suitable to a particular age group of pupils based on cognitive and emotional capacity.” School board members across the state might struggle with what they think age-appropriate means to them, but with puberty and adolescence come questions and young people deserve to get the facts about human sexuality.

State law does not require schools to “teach homosexuality.” The law does, however, require that instruction is free of bias against pupils of any race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic or cultural background or against sexually active pupils or children with disabilities. In the wake of recent suicides of gay teens and the attention paid to preventing bullying and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or non-traditional gender identity, classroom time devoted to teaching respect would do all Wisconsin schools some good. Wisconsin schools that offer comprehensive sexuality education should include time for discussion on the issues faced by LGBT youth and how schools can be safe places for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

State law does not require schools to “teach masturbation.” No place in the law mentions the word “masturbation,” nor does it define masturbation as a normal part of a healthy human sexuality. The law does say that instruction should include information about “reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology, including biological, psychosocial and emotional changes that accompany maturation.” When proponents of abstinence-only instruction critique a comprehensive approach, do they believe that students would have fewer questions about masturbation if they receive no answers to their questions about relationships, reproduction or contraception?

What Parents, Teachers and Youth Rights Advocates Can Do
Download our resource pages (PDF) with “Questions for Parents to Ask About Sex Education” and “Ten Ways to Work for Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” Teachers and curriculum advisory committee members can visit the Department of Public Instruction’s webpage on human growth curriculum for more information on how to design lesson plans that work and nondiscriminatory. The ACLU of Wisconsin also has resources to share with teachers for effective lesson plans that can meet the improved state standards for schools across the state. Email the ACLU of Wisconsin for more information.

ACLU Urges WI Court to Allow Registered Domestic Partners to Speak in Support of DP Law

1 Oct

Couples Seek To Help Defend Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Law

On Friday, October 1, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before a Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of five couples asking that they be allowed to participate in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin’s law granting limited domestic partnership protections to same-sex couples, so that they may defend the law. The law is being challenged by an anti-gay organization that contends that the law grants same-sex couples the same status as marriage, which is barred by the Wisconsin Constitution.

“Same-sex couples who have registered as domestic partners have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve to be heard,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Only those directly affected by the law know what it’s like to worry about not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to be left with nothing when a partner dies without a will.”

Wisconsin’s law allows for same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, granting them hospital visitation rights, the right to make certain decisions about medical care and rights to family and medical leave. Same-sex couples are still denied crucial protections provided only to married couples, such as the right to decide what happens to their partner’s body at death, and are denied access to all federal benefits, such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

Board members of Wisconsin Family Action had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the amendment to the state constitution that bans same-sex couples from marriage. The case, Appling v. Doyle, was dismissed by the state Supreme Court and re-filed in the circuit court, where both sides will be able to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“While the domestic partnership law in no way provides the same benefits and legal protections as marriage, it is a lifeline for committed couples who seek the security and dignity of being able to provide for their families,” said Larry Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “These couples have the right to defend these limited, but extremely important, protections against this unwarranted and mean-spirited attack.”

Also today, Lambda Legal also filed court papers today to intervene in the case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and five member couples, saying that domestic partnerships and marriages are not “substantially similar.”

Attorneys on the case include Knight of the ACLU, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin and David J.B. Froiland, Linda E.B. Hansen, Daniel A. Manna and David B. Goroff of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Additional information about the case, including bios of the couples and legal documents, is available online.

HOWL Film a Hit In Milwaukee – Answers the Question, "What Are Angel-Headed Hipsters?"

17 Sep

Over sixty people were unable to get seats to the “HOWL” film in Milwaukee Wednesday night. The sold-out event was filled to capacity with people who enjoyed a special advanced screening of the feature film about Allen Ginsberg’s poem and obscenity trial.

“The movie was an excellent blend of a depiction of the trial, an interview with Ginsberg as a monologue by Franco, and a staging of the first public reading of the poem,” said ACLU of Wisconsin staffer Marion Ecks. “I liked how it combined animation and film in a creative and moving way. The cast did an excellent job and Franco really captured Ginsburg’s manners and voice.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation co-presented the event along with the Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival and the UW-Milwaukee Libraries. ACLU staff and volunteers were on hand to meet fellow card-carrying members (who got a discounted ticket price) and give updates about our activities in the state. We met librarians, faculty, activists and local politicians who seemed to all have a story to share about a beloved, challenged book or a civil liberties issue they cared about.

“It was a bit of a love fest for literary folks, book lovers, poets, Beat fans and libertarians,” said staffer Angie Vasquez. “I got to meet the Kenosha-area author of “Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg,” Michael Schumacher, who led a Q & A after the film. Raised in Milwaukee, Schumacher went to parochial school and when his teachers said ‘don’t read this book, “Howl,”’ he went out and bought it right away and became a life-long fan of the Beat Generation. What a story.”

Vasquez was a part of the program before the film started. She thanked the audience and told them that we were excited to be a part of the evening, especially since the ACLU played such an important role in defending HOWL in the trial. She read a segment of Ginsberg’s work which is also used as an example of the power of poetry in a workshop Vasquez presented at last year’s Youth Social Justice Forum in Milwaukee.

She reminded the crowd that the ACLU of Wisconsin will be recognizing Banned Books Week at an event at the Woodland Pattern Book Center on the evening of October 1st. A Banned Books Week happy hour will happen in Madison on October 1st at Mickey’s Tavern. “HOWL” will have selected release dates across the country this fall including in Madison at the Sundance Theater on October 29th.

“HOWL” is just one of the controversial works the ACLU has defended in court. Read more about the history of the ACLU’s work to defend banned books.

Happy ACLU Day! Ninety Years, Taycheedah Prison Conditions, Banned Books and More…

15 Sep

Happy ACLU day!
In NYC, Mayor Bloomberg issued a proclamation honoring the American Civil Liberties Union’s 90th anniversary. It’s a proclamation worth reading because it summarizes the long-term work for basic equality and protections for Americans by the ACLU. What a great milestone: our members and supporters all know that defending civil rights takes time, but the ACLU continues to take the long view to work for justice.

ACLU of WI Update
Here in Wisconsin, we’re getting geared up for Banned Books Week. Listen in on a 20-minute interview on WORT-FM with ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh talking about Banned Books Week plans, our legal victory for equal and adequate health care at the Taycheedah women’s prison, the work to support public schools in implementing comprehensive sex ed and more. The interview was a part of WORT’s commitment to spotlighting organizations like the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation which are members of Community Shares of Wisconsin which provides fundraising and support for organizations dedicated to addressing social, economic, and environmental problems through grassroots activities, advocacy, research, and public education.
** One correction: the Madison Banned Books Week happy hour will be on Friday, October 1st. See below.

Tonight in Milwaukee, the ACLU of Wisconsin is co-presenting the feature film HOWL starring James Franco. The film will play at the UWM Union Theatre, 2nd level, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., 7:00 p.m. and ACLU members will get a discount on their movie tickets. The special advanced screening of HOWL depicts the life of Allen Ginsberg including Ginsberg’s arrest and prosecution for obscenity. Ginsberg was successfully defended by the ACLU in 1957 in this historic defense of a banned book. The ACLU of Wisconsin joins the Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival, the Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee Film and the UWM Libraries as co-presenters of this event in preparation for the 2010 Banned Books Week (September 25 – October 2) and the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival (October 21 – 24). For more information about the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival and HOWL admission cost, visit their website. You can view the trailer of the film on line or read more about the HOWL trial on the ACLU website.

Banned Books Week is coming up! Join us for these events:
October 1 , 2010 – Happy Hour: Banned Books Week kick-off
Mickey’s Tavern, 1524 Williamson St., 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., Madison
A part of the Wisconsin Book Festival’s line up, this celebration of the right to read will bring together readers, librarians and book defenders to socialize and hear some of the stories behind the most challenged books in Wisconsin and across the country this year. Join us for this free, fun event. RSVP for the event on Facebook and invite your friends.

October 1, 2010 – Banned Book Reading
Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St., 6:30 p.m. reception, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. program, Milwaukee
Join the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, Woodland Pattern Book Center, the Wisconsin Center for the Book and Art Night Books for a reading of challenged or banned works of art. Readers will be announced soon. To co-sponsor the event or to donate funds to help provide food and beverages, contact or call 414-272-4032 x 11. To see pictures of last year’s event, visit our blog.

ACLU of WI Will Support State’s Domestic Partner Registry: Same-sex Couples Will Show Registry is Not Marriage

20 Aug

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue its work to ensure that same-sex couples maintain the basic protections provided in the state’s new domestic partnership registry.

“We expected a challenge to the registry in a lower court,” said Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director. “We’re fully prepared to help defend the state’s registry so that same-sex couples in Wisconsin can have access to the basic, although limited, legal rights their families need.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin supported the defense of the state’s domestic partnership registry in 2009 when an earlier challenge was filed by Wisconsin Family Action in the state Supreme Court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court dismissed the complaint in November 2009. This week Wisconsin Family Action filed a new challenge in the Dane County court which could allow both sides to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“While the Wisconsin Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund will attempt to compare the domestic partnership registry to the legal definition of marriage,” Ahmuty continued, “same-sex couples will seek to demonstrate a factual record of how the protections offered by the registry are quite limited and in no way violate the marriage ban.”

For more of our recent work on LGBT rights, visit the issues section of our website. Read more about the latest challenge to same-sex families in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal. The Journal Sentinel article has a lively comments section, so feel free to weigh in with your support for LGBT equality.

On Tuesday, Let’s Hope ‘Forward’ — Influences the National Organization for Marriage

26 Jul

Posted in the op-ed section of the Capitol Times.

The National Organization for Marriage tour bus will stop by our Capitol building on Tuesday at noon to bring its message to the residents of Dane County that only different-sex couples are families. Local residents who support marriage for all loving, committed couples will hold a counterdemonstration where they will likely outnumber the NOM folks. The Madison office of the ACLU of Wisconsin will send volunteer legal observers to witness the protest and counterdemonstration as people on both sides of the marriage debate flex their free speech rights. We love it.

The ACLU of Wisconsin welcomes the National Organization for Marriage bus tour to rally on our Capitol steps. And not just because everyone has the right to free speech. We welcome the NOM because we are for marriage too. Like free speech, everyone should have the right to marry. And the ACLU of Wisconsin continues to work to advance the fair treatment of same-sex couples.

Until the time when voters can successfully repeal the discriminatory constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying, there are more real families that need equal protection under law today. Just over a year ago, the state Legislature created a domestic partner registry and benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. But these steps fall far short of the necessary legal protections provided to the families of married couples. National and local foes of the domestic registry want to challenge it.

Among the opponents, the National Organization for Marriage wants to convince voters of the need to restrict the freedom and liberty of loving, committed couples to have their marriages recognized by law. This group should have a hard time proving that heterosexual marriages are threatened by recognizing other relationships. Fortunately most Madisonians know exactly how much stronger our community is because of the diverse families who live here. And that is the kind of freedom we all can be proud of.

In the long run, people who work to restrict freedom and liberty will fail. The history of our country and our Constitution is a story of evolution, progress and an expansion of rights for individual freedom. Hopefully, when the National Organization for Marriage bus tour stops at the Capitol near a statue emblazoned with our state motto “Forward,” they will be welcomed as freedom of speech dictates, and then they will take the statue’s advice.

Please visit the op-ed webpage and log in to leave your comments on why NOM is wrong about same-sex marriage.

Police Censorship of Gay-Themed Play Lawsuit Settled: City Pays MKE Gay Arts Center and Clarifies Theater License Requirements

15 Jul

On July 14th, 2010, the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center (MGAC) received a check for $20,000 from the City of Milwaukee in settlement of a federal lawsuit filed on its behalf by the ACLU of Wisconsin. The suit alleged that the City violated the First Amendment by shutting down “Naked Boys Singing,” a musical play with gay themes that has been produced around the country, after receiving complaints from a citizen who objected to its content.

Paul Masterson, the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, said the settlement sends a message that the government should not interfere lightly with theatrical works, including works that express and celebrate gay identity. “Good theater sometimes challenges convention,” Masterson said. “The police should not shut down a play because some people find it offensive.”

City officials told MGAC representatives in August of 2005 that it could not stage the play because the Center had not obtained a theater license required by a local ordinance. The ordinance requires that the Common Council approve theater license applications, but the Common Council was not meeting until long after “Naked Boys Singing” was scheduled to run.

After the play was shut down, the City determined that, because the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center was a non-profit organization, it was exempt from the license requirement. After the dispute over “Naked Boys Singing” emerged, the City changed its theater licensing forms to make clear that non-profits were not required to get a theater license. However, the city ordinance still requires for-profit theaters to obtain a license and puts no time limit on when the Common Council must decide on the license application.

“Requiring any theater to get a license before putting on a play comes dangerously close to the kind of ‘prior restraint’ on speech the First Amendment was designed to prohibit,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Legal Director Larry Dupuis. “We are pleased that the City has clarified the process so that non-profits will know they are not required to get a license. However, we continue to believe that the City should amend its ordinance to limit the time the City has to issue any theater license. It’s too easy for the authorities to just delay giving the permit to performances they don’t like.”

The Milwaukee Gay Arts Center was represented in the case by cooperating counsel Steve Porter and Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, Wisconsin, and ACLU of Wisconsin legal director Larry Dupuis.

The story has had news mentions on WCCO CBS in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin, The Onion’s Milwaukee AV Club, WBAY ABC-2 in Green Bay, WTAQ 97.5 and 1360 AM News Talk, as well as on, Milwaukee, and Our Lives magazine in Madison.