Wisconsin laws barring same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled, increasing to 26 the number of U.S. states where such unions have been deemed legal by judges, voters or legislators.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital yesterday came just hours after seven couples filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a similar ban in North Dakota, the last state barring same-sex marriage that hadn’t been challenged in court.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year triggered a wave of lawsuits by gay-rights supporters after it overturned a 1996 ban on federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Counting yesterday’s decision, same-sex marriage proponents have won 15 consecutive rulings nationwide since then.
Judges’ decisions striking down bans in Michigan, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arkansas and Idaho have been put on hold pending the outcome of appeals. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments on the Oklahoma and Utah cases in April, while the appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, held its hearing last month on the ruling in that state.
The Supreme Court, if asked, might agree to review one or more of those cases.
Crabb’s decision sparked a rush to courthouse doors by couples seeking to marry, prompting state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to file an emergency request to stop them.
The Milwaukee County Clerk’s office remained open until 9 p.m. yesterday to issue marriage licenses for a $110 fee, plus $25 if applicants want to waive a five-day waiting period, County Board Chairman Marina Dimitrijevic said in a statement.
The office has issued 68 licenses and the same weddings had been performed, Milwaukee County Clerk Joseph Czarnezki said this evening as his building filled with would-be applicants. At one point, there were 10 judges officiating in the hall outside the clerk’s office.
“My legal counsel says there’s nothing in the federal court order to prevent me from issuing marriage licenses,” he said. “Too many people have waited too long to get married. I’m not going to make them wait any longer.”
Asked at a Milwaukee press conference whether gay couples should be attempting to marry immediately, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Laurence DuPuis said, “I am not going to advise anybody this weekend.”
Van Hollen said the judge’s order didn’t give clerks in Milwaukee and Dane counties authority to immediately issue licenses.
“I have an obligation to uphold Wisconsin law and our constitution,” he said yesterday in a statement. “While today’s decision is a setback, we will continue to defend the constitutionality of our traditional marriage laws and the constitutional amendment which was overwhelmingly approved by voters.”
In the time between the December U.S. court ruling striking down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban and a Supreme Court ruling two weeks later delaying its effectiveness during the appeal, more than 1,000 gay couples married there.
A U.S. appeals court on June 5 said that state need not offer marital benefits now to those who had wed during that two-week period.
Crabb set a June 16 deadline for the couples who challenged the gay-marriage ban to submit a proposed order to implement her decision. The judge also told the state it had a week to respond, after which she would consider its request to delay that order.
Near the end of her 88-page ruling, Crabb cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to invalidate the law barring recognition by the federal government of same-sex marriages and the stream of subsequent rulings striking down state bans that followed.
“It appears that courts are moving toward a consensus that it’s time to embrace full legal equality for gay and lesbian citizens,” the judge said.
The case is Wolf v. Walker, 14-cv-00064, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison).