Outagamie County will refund marriage application fees for same-sex couples

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Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he had to defend state law banning same-sex marriage. However, he did not defend state law creating a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson announced today that same-sex couples who paid $100 to apply for marriage licenses there last week can receive full refunds in order to get married in another state. Three out of Wisconsin’s four neighboring states support marriage equality.

The Outagamie County clerk’s office initially said it would refund the $55 portion of the application fee that would have gone to the state but would keep its $45 share. Nelson, however, stepped in with other county officials and offered to refund the $45 from his budget.

Local applicants also have the option of not asking for refunds and keeping their applications on hold until there’s a decision on Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s appeal to overturn a circuit judge’s June 6 ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. In the week following that ruling, upwards of 550 lesbian and gay couples were married in 60 of the state’s 72 counties.

But, citing legal precedent, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Barbara Crabb eventually put a stay on her own ruling until the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago hears Van Hollen’s case. None of the prior cases seeking to overturn such a ruling have succeeded, and Van Hollen has acknowledged that he doesn’t expect Crabb’s ruling to be overturned by the appeals court, but rather believes the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say in the matter.

Van Hollen maintains that it’s his duty to defend state law, but he has refused to defend other state laws, most notably the 2009 law establishing a domestic partner registry for same-sex Wisconsin couples. Dana Brueck, Van Hollen’s communications director, said she would seek clarification on the reasoning behind the attorney general’s perceived duty to defend the anti-gay law but not the pro-gay law.

Most of the state’s county clerks gave same-sex couples the standard option to pay for waiving the five-day waiting period required to process a marriage license. But Outagamie County Clerk Lori O’Bright did not waive the waiting period in most cases, leaving same-sex couples who’d applied for licenses there in a particularly difficult situation when Crabb brought the wedding marches to a halt on June 13. With their licenses caught in limbo within a limbo, they cannot get married in another state nor can they qualify for federal marriage benefits if U.S. Attorney General decides to confer them, as he has for couples in other states who were caught in such circumstances.

Equality supporters gathered outside the courthouse in Appleton early this afternoon to protest O’Bright’s refusal to grant waivers to expedite their marriage licenses as well as her refusal to refund their fees.