Wisconsin’s Fair Employment Law, which bars job discrimination based on sexual orientation, was passed in 1982. But it was not until last year that the state required officials at government-subsidized children’s programs to sign a statement saying they will abide by the law or lose their operating licenses.

The requirement created a dilemma for officials at the Rawhide Boys Ranch in London, Wisconsin. According to the disputed law, the boys ranch is wrong in requiring that its 22 houseparents be married and in insisting that the married partners be of the opposite sex.

Located on 500 acres of wooded farmland along the Wolf River in northeast Wisconsin, the 22-year-old ranch offers educational, recreational, and vocational programs to its 20 court-referred boys in a setting where biblical moral values are emphasized. About half the organization’s annual $700,000 budget comes from the state.

John Gillespie, director of the boys home, claims that, in the absence of exemptions for church groups and nonprofit organizations, the state law leads to “reverse discrimination.” He said most boys who come to Rawhide have extensive delinquency backgrounds, but respond well to caring houseparents who serve as good role models. “We hire a lifestyle,” Gillespie said. “When we hire houseparents, we are saying, ‘We want you to live your life before these boys.’ ”

However, those who favor stringent enforcement of the law, including homosexual advocacy groups, argue that Rawhide’s is not the only approach to rehabilitation. They say the ranch’s estimated 90 percent success rate is achieved at the needless expense of equal employment opportunity.

Rawhide officials decided ...

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