Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday within minutes of a federal judge’s striking down the state’s gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling.
Clerks in Madison and Milwaukee started marrying same-sex couples Friday evening. They did so even though both Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Chris Ahmuty, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law in court, said the ruling did not clear the way for marriages to begin.
Van Hollen said that in light of clerks going ahead with marriages, he would file emergency motions in federal courts to put Friday’s order on hold. Van Hollen did not say when he would ask for the emergency order.
Renee Currie and Shari Roll, both of Madison, were first in line at the county courthouse in Madison and were married on the street just a block from the Capitol. In Milwaukee, about 75 people cheered as two men were married in the hallway outside the clerk’s office at the county courthouse.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he would keep his courthouse open until 9 p.m. so same-sex couples could get married.
“I have been waiting decades for this day to finally arrive and we won’t make loving couples wait longer than they want to get married,” Abele said.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling late Friday declared the law unconstitutional. But the judge also asked the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the law, then gave Van Hollen’s office a chance to respond. She said she would later decide whether to put her underlying decision on hold while it is appealed.
Van Hollen vowed to appeal.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of four gay couples, then later expanded to eight, challenging Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. The lawsuit alleged Wisconsin’s ban violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, asserting the prohibition deprives gay couples of the legal protections that married couples enjoy simply because of their gender.
Gay rights activists have won 15 consecutive lower court cases since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last summer, with Wisconsin being the latest. Many of those rulings are being appealed.
“This case is not about whether marriages between same-sex couples are consistent or inconsistent with the teachings of a particular religion, whether such marriages are moral or immoral or whether they are something that should be encouraged or discouraged,” Crabb wrote in the Wisconsin ruling. “It is not even about whether the plaintiffs in this case are as capable as opposite-sex couples of maintaining a committed and loving relationship or raising a family together.
“Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.”
In May, Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki and Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said they had trained additional staff to issue marriage licenses and worked with the chief judge to have judges on hand to perform ceremonies. They were waiving a normal waiting period so couples could wed immediately.
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006, to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The state has offered a domestic partner registry that affords gay couples a host of legal rights since 2009, but its future is in doubt; the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court is weighing whether it violates the constitution.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, has a long history of opposing gay marriage. But in recent months he’s avoided talking directly about the state’s ban, which he supported, saying it’s an issue that needs to be decided by the courts and voters.
Walker’s likely Democratic challenger in the governor’s race, Mary Burke, supports legalizing gay marriage.