Federal Judge Refuses to Halt Same Sex Marriages in Wisconsin

Jun 9, 2014

Clerks statewide have been seeking clarification on whether they should issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down Wisconsin's ban on same sex marriage. Voters had approved the item in 2006, but Crabb found it to be unconstitutional.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing and had asked Crabb to halt same sex weddings in the meantime, insisting the state law should remain in effect. Instead, on Monday, Crabb set a hearing for June 19 to review the matter.

Van Hollen is also asking a federal appeals court to halt her order, while the issue continues winding its way through courtrooms.

County clerks in Milwaukee and Dane counties immediately began marrying same sex couples on Friday and continued over the weekend, waiving the traditional five-day waiting period.

However, clerks in many other counties were awaiting guidance from the state or the judge.

For example, in Outagamie County, Clerk Lori O'Bright changed course on Monday morning, after about 100 people refused to leave her office. Initially, she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple that showed up, but a county lawyer then recommended that she begin accepting marriage applications and she did, for dozens. However O'Bright opted not to waive the five-day waiting period unless there are extenuating circumstances.

In Brown County, Clerk Sandy Juno decided to begin issuing licenses on Monday, after she could not reach the Wisconsin Vital Records Office for advice.

The judge's order came down Friday, as people were filing into Pridefest, along Milwaukee's lakefront.
Credit LaToya Dennis

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele ordered the county courthouse to be open Friday evening, so people could get married. In a statement, Abele said "I have been waiting for decades for this day to finally arrive and we won't make loving couples wait longer." Abele says he'll personally cover the costs of keeping the courthouse open extra hours.

Van Hollen called the judge’s decision a “setback” and says he will appeal it. He says he will continue to defend the constitutionality of “our traditional marriage laws.”

The judge’s decision makes Wisconsin the 27th state where same-sex marriage is allowed, or where judges have ruled gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to get married, according to the Associated Press.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, on behalf of eight same-sex couples.