June 9, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Judge won’t halt first same-sex marriages in Wisconsin
gavel, law, court, gay news, Washington Blade

A federal court has refused to stay same-sex marriage taking place in Wisconsin (Photo by Bigstock).

Same-sex marriages continued for the first-time ever in Wisconsin as the federal court brought marriage equality to the state refused on Monday to halt the weddings.

In a four-page order, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb announced after a telephone conference on Monday afternoon she has denied the emergency stay request filed by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Up to 15 counties — including the populous Dane and Milwaukee counties — were marrying same-sex couples as of Monday. Immediately after the ruling on Friday, Dane and Milwaukee county clerk offices stayed open late and issued 283 licenses to same-sex couples on Friday and Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

Following the announcement from Crabb, Van Hollen reiterated his opinion that county clerks shouldn’t marry same-sex couples in Wisconsin because Crabb never enjoined enforcement of the marriage law.

“Wisconsin’s marriage law is in full force and effect, and all state and local officials are under a continuing duty to follow Wisconsin’s marriage law unless and until the court enjoins that law,” Van Hollen said.

Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said his organization believes it’s up to the county clerks to determine whether they are legally able to distribute marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The ACLU believes the ban has been struck down, but individual county clerks whether it’s Milwaukee, Dane county, other counties around Wisconsin they’re going to have to make up their own mind using independent legal advice as to whether or not they’re going to start issuing licenses,” Ahmuty said.

In her denial of the stay request, Crabb writes the issue of whether the state believes clerks’ distribution of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is in violation of state law is “outside the scope of this case.”

In addition to filing the stay request with Crabb, Van Hollen filed another stay request on Monday with the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Wisconsin. That request remains pending before the appellate court.

“The U.S Supreme Court will almost certainly decide this important issue once and for all during its next term,” Hollen said in a statement. “There is absolutely no reason to allow Wisconsin’s county clerks to decide for themselves, on a county-by-county basis, who may and may not lawfully get married in this state. Nor is there any reason to subject any citizen to the stress and legal uncertainty that will result, as it has in other jurisdictions, if they are permitted to immediately contract marriages pursuant to a district court decision that may soon be reversed on appeal.”

Simultaneous with his stay requests, Hollen appealed the decision against Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage to the Seventh Circuit. That means six appellate courts now have marriage-equality cases before them amid expectations the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a nationwide ruling on the issue by mid-2015.

On Friday, Crabb struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin, which was approved by voters as an amendment to the state constitution in 2006. Although she declared the law unconstitutional, she included neither a stay nor an injunction as part of her ruling, saying she’d resolve those issues at a later time. County clerks nonetheless decided it was within their legal authority to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Matt Schreck, 37, and Jose Fernando Gutierrez, 35, were the first same-sex couple to wed in Milwaukee County. The two, who have been together seven years, reportedly wed at 5:25 on Friday.

In Dane County, which comprises Madison, the first same-sex couple to wed was Renee Currie and Shari Roll. They married on the steps of the courthouse at 5:30 p.m.

After the ruling, the two openly gay members of Wisconsin’s delegation to Congress — Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — issued statements regarding the decision.

Pocan criticized Van Hollen for appealing the ruling in favor of marriage equality. Other Republican state officials — including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett — declined to appeal to higher courts decisions bringing gay nuptials to their states.

“The Attorney General’s decision to appeal the ruling that struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage is a regressive and blatantly political attempt to revive a hateful and discriminatory law which violates the ideals of liberty and equality in our Constitution,” Pocan said. “Society has changed, barriers to equality continue to be broken down; it’s too bad our Attorney General is still living in a more hateful day.”

Pocan himself is in a same-sex marriage with Philip Frank, the co-owner of his printing shop business whom he married in Toronto in 2006. State recognition of their union in Wisconsin hinges on the outcome of the litigation.

Immediately after the ruling, Baldwin commended the decision, saying discrimination against someone for whom they love or the nature of their family is “just plain wrong.”

“This federal court decision reaffirms our founding belief that all Americans are created equal under the law,” Baldwin said. “It’s about fairness – about whether gay and lesbian Americans deserve to be treated just like their family members, their friends, and their neighbors. It’s about opportunity – about whether every American gets to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success. And it’s about freedom – the freedom to love, the freedom to commit, the freedom to build a family.”

But Baldwin also had harsh words for the administration of Gov. Scott Walker and its continued defense of the ban on same-sex marriage, saying she’s “disappointed that Gov. Walker supports defending discrimination in court and standing in the way of freedom, fairness and equality for all Wisconsinites.”

“We believe that history only moves in one direction: Forward,” Baldwin concluded. “It’s our state motto and this is a huge step forward for Wisconsin being a place where every family’s love and commitment can be recognized and respected under the law.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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