Same-Sex Couples in Wisconsin Rush to Marry, Knowing Legal Window Might Close

Jun 10, 2014

Mary Bergeson (left) and Theresa Gallun were all smiles Monday, as they left the Milwaukee County Courthouse after getting married.
Credit Ann-Elise Henzl

Wisconsin’s attorney general is challenging a federal judge’s decision to strike down the state’s ban on gay marriage.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the ban on same-sex marriage, which voters added to the state constitution in 2006, is unconstitutional. In the days since, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples headed to courthouses, seeking marriage licenses. Forty-five of the state’s 72 counties are issuing licenses, according to an Associated Press tally on Tuesday.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing Crabb’s ruling, and is trying to force counties not to allow same-sex marriages, while the appeal is pending.

A federal appeals court could rule as soon as Wednesday on whether to honor Van Hollen’s request to halt same-sex marriages.

Mary Bergeson and Theresa Gallun are among those who wanted to marry while they still had the chance. They did so, at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Monday morning.

The two say they’ve pretty much lived as a married couple – just without the license. They’ve been together a decade and a half, and they have two kids, a house and a dog.

They thought the chance to be married would come one day. Yet Bergeson reacted cautiously on Friday, when learning of Crabb’s ruling. Bergeson says she thought it might not be true. She also cried. Gallun, on the other hand, says she was ready to jump into action, wondering, “Can we find a babysitter? Can we get down to the courthouse quick enough? Oh my gosh, we only have an hour, it’s not going to happen tonight.”

As they were leaving the courthouse on Monday, the couple found their new status a bit hard to believe. They laughed, embraced and sobbed, while repeating to themselves: “We’re married.” Gallun and Bergeson believe their marriage license will remain valid, despite ongoing legal challenges to same-sex marriage in Wisconsin.

Knowing courts could end the opportunity for gay and lesbian couples to marry, Scott Gunkel and Jack Cramer also headed to the courthouse Monday. Gunkel says they’ve been together 24 years, and says “we’ve been fighting for all these rights, and we’re going to take advantage of it while we can.”

Before they could get their marriage license, Cramer needed to obtain a certified copy of his birth certificate from Ohio. The couple hoped they would be able to do so on Monday.

Gunkel says they’ll feel married, no matter what judges eventually decide. “The courts are not our lives. So our lives are going to be complete, and that’s what’s important,” he says.

Another couple visiting the courthouse Monday agreed -- they feel married, regardless of court rulings and state law. But while marriage was an option, Linda Wunder and Michelle Brousseau wanted to tie the knot. They say having a marriage license will allow them to legally protect each other.

“It does secure life insurance benefits, the home – my family can’t throw her out -- it’s right now my home, and she has a home if something would happen to me," Wunder says. "Basically, that’s the security of what we’re looking for."

A few years ago, the couple signed up for the state’s domestic partnership registry right after it took effect. They say they were on the front page of the newspaper in Shawano, where they filled out the paperwork. They were tickled to again be in the spotlight on Monday.