Barn weddings have been saved by an unlikely alliance between a conservative group, Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Both sides agree the state should not require liquor licenses for barn weddings, which wasn’t even a question until last year when some Republican legislators pushed to change state statutes on this subject.
A state Senate proposal flopped, however, after WILL complained the proposal’s language was so vague it could doom tailgating at Packer and Badger games and other private celebrations where alcohol is given—not sold—to guests.
Wisconsinites cried foul because they didn’t want Big Brother further encroaching on their lives for the sake of special interests, namely the Tavern League of Wisconsin, which considers barn weddings competition.
The issue should have died, but it didn’t.
Then-Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, issued an informal opinion Nov. 16 interpreting statutes as requiring liquor licenses for barn weddings—a sudden and radical about-face. Specifically, Schimel sought to define “public place” to include private event venues rented out for private parties. Schimel reasoned these private events are in “public places” because members of the public rent them out. His interpretation upended years of understanding that private event venues are just that—private. After all, nobody goes to a wedding without an invitation, unless he plans to crash it.
WILL sued the Evers administration in January on behalf of two farmers opposed to a liquor license requirement. This became an early test for the Evers administration: Would it join Republicans in siding with special interests, or would it stand up for small business?
We are happy to report the administration, in a statement released last week, showed no interest in adopting Schimel’s illogical definition of what constitutes a “public place.” While WILL and the administration disagree on plenty of issues, such as WILL’s proposal to expand the private school Choice program, the two sides seem to agree hosting a private party—whether to celebrate a sports team or a marriage—shouldn’t be subject to expensive, overbearing regulation.
The Evers administration didn’t give a ringing endorsement for barn weddings, however, and it should take a firmer stance on this issue by proposing an amendment to state statutes clarifying the definition of “public places” to explicitly exclude private event venues. As for their part in this controversy, Republicans should reflect on how they arrived at this point, advocating for more regulation while a Democratic governor pushes for less.