Wisconsin’s new take on the marriage penalty, coming after wedding barns


Wisconsin brides, watch out. Special interests and lawmakers are coming after you, your wedding planners, and your Instagram-perfect wedding. Grooms and parents of the lovely couple, be aware. Their proposals mean a more expensive wedding reception, as if that weren’t a large enough drain on your budget already. And guests of the wedding, you should be concerned, too. This policy is going to hit you just as much. 

It's like a menacing ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who will come and object to the marriage, halting any marital bliss — and closing the bar before you even get started. It’ll affect the glasses of bubbly you toast, the classic brandy old fashioneds you drink during cocktail hour, the wine you have with your choice of steak or salmon, and any beer you might consume on the dance floor.

You see, this is because couples choose to have their weddings in standard reception halls less than they used to — and many opt for the newly popular shabby chic wedding barn location. The local restaurants and taverns that had long been mainstays for the post-church dinner-and-dance don't have the monopoly they used to have. 

So Wisconsin's Tavern League and the local establishment politburo are looking to politicians to enact protectionist policies rather than keeping up with the times. Instead of renovating their spaces to become more attractive or working with good-spirited competition to draw brides and grooms back to their businesses, they’re spending money on lobbyists to change the law to benefit them. 

So what’s actually happening? 

In Wisconsin, there’s a massive overhaul happening right now of the state’s liquor licensing laws — Assembly Bill 304/Senate Bill 332. But deep in this enormous piece of legislation is a policy that goes after the growing agricultural event industry, commonly referred to as "wedding barns." 

One of the popular features of having a reception at a wedding barn is that couples can bring in their own alcohol that they have already purchased at a cost and location that works best for them. Often, and especially in the case of a Wisconsin wedding, this can be a true cost-saving measure for the happy couple. They can shop at their favorite liquor store, the local Woodman’s, or even Costco to prepare for a night of celebration instead of facing the staggering costs or bottle corkage fees at other venues. 

The proposal in Wisconsin would require wedding barns to get a tavern license, facing the same regulations and costs with which bars that operate every night and sell alcohol must comply — even though they neither sell alcohol nor are a public place. Alternatively, if they didn’t want a tavern license, barns could get a newly created “no-sale event venue permit" that would restrict them to having events only once a month and a maximum of six per year. Furthermore, under this no-sale event venue permit, spirits wouldn't be allowed to be consumed, banning the Wisconsin-famous brandy old fashioned (sweet AND sour) from the nuptial premises. 

Obtaining a tavern license can be challenging, too. This mandate would force wedding barns to comply with certain local zoning laws and minimum thresholds of days they would need to be open to keep a Class B liquor license, both of which could quickly put these agricultural event spaces out of business and leave brides without their chosen venue for saying "I do."

Previous sessions of the Wisconsin Legislature have defeated this proposal. Still, it keeps coming back, just like a bad ex who crashes a wedding after having a couple too many drinks. It’s time for Wisconsin lawmakers to dump this lousy proposal once and for all and amend this legislation to empower brides and grooms to choose where they will have their weddings free from this potential onerous marriage penalty.