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MILWAUKEE — Dozens of gay couples got married at courthouses in Milwaukee and Dane counties early Saturday, taking advantage of what may be a small window in which to get hitched before a ruling overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban is put on hold.
Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said couples were lined up outside his courthouse at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened. Within 30 minutes of opening, about 45 couples had applied for marriage licenses.
When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the state’s ban on Friday, pastor Andrew Warner was among those who went to the courthouse to get a license so he could legally wed his longtime partner.
Then he turned to perform a wedding for two members of his Milwaukee church.
“I always felt like we were second-class citizens in not being able to get married,” Warner said after marrying Jay Edmundson on Friday evening, despite confusion over the effect of Crabb’s ruling. “And now I feel good about my state in a way I haven’t before.”
In her ruling, Crabb asked the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the gay marriage law. She said she would later decide whether to put her decision on hold while it is appealed.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said there is confusion and uncertainty about Crabb’s ruling, and he doesn’t think it actually cleared the way for same-sex marriages to proceed. He asked Cragg to issue an emergency stay halting the issuing of further marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she hasn’t done so. He is expected to petition a federal appeals court for such an order on Monday.
Attorney Larry Dupuis, who represented the couples who sued, said the ACLU would respond to Crabb next week, and he expected her to then issue an order for the state to allow marriages.
Clerks in Madison and Milwaukee began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, a little over an hour after Crabb issued her ruling.
In Milwaukee, Jose Fernando Gutierrez and Matthew Schreck married outside the county clerk’s office in what may have been the state’s first gay marriage. Gutierrez and Schreck then served as witnesses when Warner performed a ceremony for Christopher Martell and Mark Williams. All of the men attend Plymouth Church, where Warner is a minister.
Williams said he and Martell had assembled documents needed to get a license in anticipation of a ruling. They expected there to be a narrow window before a court halted the ceremonies.
“It definitely matters to us to have confidence that our relationship will be respected,” Williams said.
In Madison, Shari Roll married Renee Currie just a block from the state Capitol.
“I’m still up in the clouds!” Roll said.
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006 to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in February arguing that the ban violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. It said the eight couples named in the lawsuit and others like them had been deprived of the same legal protections that opposite-sex married couples enjoy.
Gay rights activists have won 15 consecutive lower court cases since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last summer, with Wisconsin being the latest. Many of those rulings are being appealed.
“This case is not about whether marriages between same-sex couples are consistent or inconsistent with the teachings of a particular religion, whether such marriages are moral or immoral or whether they are something that should be encouraged or discouraged,” Crabb wrote in the Wisconsin ruling. “It is not even about whether the plaintiffs in this case are as capable as opposite-sex couples of maintaining a committed and loving relationship or raising a family together.
“Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.”