LoveWinsWI: Gay couples marry in Wisconsin

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Jill Winkler, left, and Pamela Dietzler kiss after they were married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6 in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on June 6 shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. - PHOTO: AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps

UPDATED: U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb has scheduled a conference meeting with the parties for 1 p.m. on June 9.

Same-sex couples rushed to courthouses in Dane and Milwaukee counties on June 6 following a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

And soon weddings were taking place, even as attorneys and law professors and government officials in the Walker administration were still reviewing the 88-page decision from U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb.

Meanwhile, Decision Day rallies were coming together outside the steps of the Capitol, at taverns and centers and at Milwaukee’s PrideFest, which was just getting underway as news of the ruling was breaking — flashing on local and cable TV channels, going up on websites, getting posted, tweeted and shared across social media and going out old-school, in telephone calls from friends and family.

At PrideFest, Milwaukee County Chris Abele took the stage to announce that the clerk’s office would stay open late on June 6 and also on June 7 for same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses — even if he had to personally pay for the overtime. There were cheers and, in the audience, quick discussions between partners who would depart the rainbow festivities to get hitched.

In Dane County, Shari Roll and Renee Currie, together for 10 years, became the first same-sex couple to marry. Of course they hadn’t started out their Friday with plans to marry, but they had dozens of witnesses as they exchanged vows in an 80-second ceremony before a throng of media.

A news conference took place nearby, outside the Capitol, and another was held in Milwaukee. They were followed by a flurry of statements from civil rights leaders, activists, lawmakers and candidates who cheered Crabb’s decision.

There also were condemnations, along with a notice from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen that he was filing an emergency request for a stay — a hearing was set for 1 p.m. on June 9 and the request could be considered then — and from the state Department of Justice warning clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Van Hollen said that because Crabb didn’t issue an immediate injunction against enforcement that the law remained in effect.

“The United States Supreme Court, after a referral from Justice (Sonia) Sotomayor, stayed a lower court’s decision striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. There is no reason to believe the Supreme Court would treat Wisconsin’s ban any differently,” he said in the statement.

But Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell had a different interpretation of Crabb’s ruling, as did Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki, Abele, and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

“This is a happy and historic day in Wisconsin,” Parisi said. “It’s been a long time coming, it’s been too long coming, but it’s here. Everyone who wants to marry in Wisconsin is now finally able to marry the person they love.”

Same-sex couples can marry in the District of Columbia and 19 other states. Until June 6, Wisconsin had been an inequality state surrounded by the equality states of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.

But the wedding march in Wisconsin could prove to be a brief one — stays could be issued at either the district or appeals court level pending an appeal from Van Hollen.

Wolf v. Walker was filed on behalf of eight same-sex couples either seeking the right to marry in Wisconsin or to have the state recognize an out-of-state marriage. The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP have argued that Wisconsin’s ban on marriage equality violates the couples’ due process and equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Crabb, in her opinion, said two motions were before the court: a motion to dismiss filed by the state and a motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs, who are either seeking the right to marry in the state or to have the state recognize their marriages.

"I am granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and denying defendants' motion to dismiss because I conclude that the Wisconsin laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs' right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the equal protection clause," she wrote.

She continued, "I do not mean to disparage the legislators and citizens who voted in good conscience for the marriage amendment." However, "it is necessary to conclude only that the state may not intrude without adequate justification on certain fundamental decisions made by individuals and that, when the state does impose restrictions on these important matters, it must do so in an even-handed manner."

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said, "We are tremendously happy that these loving and committed couples will now be able to access the security and recognition that only marriage provides. These discriminatory laws are falling around the country and it is only right that Wisconsin move forward as well."

Wisconsin voted in 2006 to approve the anti-gay amendment, which states that "only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state."

But recent polls show that Wisconsin voters have flipped on the marriage ban — about 55 percent in the state now support marriage equality.

There are about 70 lawsuits pending in state and federal courts challenging anti-gay marriage laws in 30 states, in addition to the challenge in Wisconsin, which is the 12th state to see an anti-gay ban struck down in federal court since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its marriage rulings last June.

“Where you live should never limit your ability to marry the person you love,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “All across the country, from coast to coast and everywhere in between, judges are striking marriage discrimination from the books using the U.S. Constitution as their guide. Because of the couples who brought this case, their attorneys with the ACLU and Mayer Brown LLP, and the hundreds of plaintiffs challenging marriage bans across the country, we as a nation are closer than ever before to full equality under the law.”

Gov. Scott Walker's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mary Burke, Walker's likely Democratic opponent in November, said in a statement, "Today is a great day for Wisconsin and committed couples who love each other across the state. Every loving couple should have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, and the fact that this freedom is now available in Wisconsin is something we all can and should be proud of."