Cultural Revolutions

The Lesbian Roommate Case

The lesbian roommate case in Madison, Wisconsin, that has been pending since 1989 was finally given a hearing this past fall. In a decision dated December 27, 1991, Madison Equal Opportunities Commission hearing examiner Sheilah O. Jakobson found that Anne Hacklander Ready and Maureen Rowe unlawfully discriminated against lesbian Caryl Sprague by refusing to rent her a room "because of her sexual orientation." Ready and Rowe were sued under a local ordinance that reads, in part, "it shall be an unfair discrimination practice and unlawful and hereby prohibited: (a) For any person having the right of . . . transfer, sale, rental, or lease of any housing . . . to refuse to transfer, sell, rent, or lease . . . [to] any person such housing because of . . . sexual orientation." As the sole leaseholder on a house whose owner lived abroad, Anne Ready had the authority to sublease. With this in mind and interpreting the ordinance narrowly, the Madison EOC decided to apply this statute to roommates.

This interpretation does not seem to have been the intent of the lawmakers who wrote the ordinance. The case was well-publicized locally in 1989, and in response the Madison City Council voted 19 to 2 on September 19 of that year to amend the ordinance specifically to except roommates from liability. According to Bruce M. Davey, the attorney for Ready and Rowe, there is a similar Wisconsin law that has not been interpreted to...

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