MADISON, Wis. – Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling.
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 the judge released her ruling. Judges were on hand at both courthouses to perform ceremonies.
"I'm still up in the clouds!" Shari Roll said shortly after she married Renee Currie just a block from the state Capitol.
Court officials conducted the marriages even though Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said the ruling did not clear the way for weddings to begin and sought an sought an emergency order in federal court to stop them. Van Hollen said confusion and uncertainty had resulted from the judge's decision and the status quo must be preserved.
In Milwaukee, Jose Fernando Gutierrez and Matthew Schreck married outside the county clerk's office in what was possibly the first gay marriage in the state. About 45 minutes later, Currie and Roll got married in Madison.
Clerks were keeping their offices open until 9 p.m. in Madison and Milwaukee to issue marriage licenses. It wasn't immediately known whether marriages were happening elsewhere in Wisconsin.
Andrew Warner, a minister at Plymouth Church in Milwaukee, married longtime partner Jay Edmundson, then performed a wedding for two members of his church, Christopher Martell and Mark Williams. Gutierrez and Schreck, who attend the same church, served as witnesses.
"I always felt like we were second-class citizens in not being able to get married," said Warner. "And now I feel good about my state in a way I haven't before."
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 her ruling, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the gay marriage ban unconstitutional. But she also created confusion by asking the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the law. She said she would later decide whether to put her decision on hold while it is appealed.
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.
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006 to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The ACLU filed a lawsuit this February saying the ban violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. It said the eight couples named in the suit and others like them had been deprived of legal protections that married couples enjoy simply because of their gender.
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."
Three of the couples who sued gathered at a bar in Milwaukee, where the gay festival PrideFest opened Friday. They celebrated with family and friends, who brought T-shirts with the message, "love wins."
Garth Wangemann, 58, and Roy Badger, 56, said they are eager to be married -- they have their clothes picked out -- but OK with waiting a bit longer. They said they had come a long way since the days when banks wouldn't give them a joint checking account and landlords didn't want to rent to them.
"We all wanted the day to come where young people (can) now take it for granted, they can marry the person they love," Wangemann said.