Lee S. Dreyfus, 81; Signed 1st Statewide Gay Rights Law

Lee Sherman Dreyfus was an academic who served one term as Wisconsin's governor and then left politics.
Lee Sherman Dreyfus was an academic who served one term as Wisconsin's governor and then left politics. (By Mike Devries -- Associated Press)
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Associated Press
Saturday, January 5, 2008

Former Wisconsin governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus, 81, who signed the nation's first statewide gay rights law in 1982, died Jan. 2 at his home in Waukesha, Wis. He had suffered from heart and breathing problems.

The gay rights measure made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Mr. Dreyfus, a Republican, said when he signed it: "It is a fundamental tenet of the Republican Party that government ought not intrude in the private lives of individuals where no state purpose is served, and there is nothing more private or intimate than who you live with and who you love."

Mr. Dreyfus was born in Milwaukee and served in the Navy during World War II. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and taught speech and mass communications there and at Wayne State University.

He was chancellor at UW-Stevens Point when he decided to run for governor. He upset Rep. Bob Kasten in the primary and defeated Acting Gov. Martin Schreiber (D).

Mr. Dreyfus served from 1979 to 1983, then surprised party leaders by not seeking a second term. He said he wanted to return to private life.

During his term, he earned respect for his businesslike approach to politics -- and for his gifts as a communicator. He famously coined the phrase about Wisconsin's liberal capital: "Madison is 30 square miles surrounded by reality."

"He wasn't interested in the political maneuvering," said Tom Loftus, a Democrat who was majority leader in the Assembly during Dreyfus's term. "He would propose something, and whatever the legislature came up with, he would work with that."

Survivors include Mr. Dreyfus's wife, Joyce; two children; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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