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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1:28 pm

49 Wisconsin counties issue gay marriage licenses

MILWAUKEE (AP) More county clerks in Wisconsin began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Tuesday, setting aside frustration with the lack of clear direction from the federal judge who declared the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, same-sex couples in counties that weren't issuing licenses said they felt disadvantaged given Wisconsin's requirement that residents who wish to wed apply in the counties where they live.

Hundreds of gay couples have married since U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb overturned the ban on Friday. At least 353 licenses have been issued in Milwaukee and Madison, the two cities where most ceremonies are taking place. By Tuesday, 49 county clerks said they would issue licenses to couples that wanted them. Some also were waiving the state's five-day waiting period so couples could marry before an expected hold is placed on Crabb's decision.

Other county clerks said they still wanted more definite direction from Crabb or the state. The judge caused confusion by declaring the ban unconstitutional but not providing an order telling the state how to implement her decision. She is currently mulling whether to adopt a proposed order from the American Civil Liberties union, which sued in January on behalf of eight gay couples, forcing clerks to issue licenses.

Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has appealed Crabb's decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked it to issue an order stopping further licenses from being issued. The appeals court has given Van Hollen and the ACLU until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file motions on whether it has the authority to act before Crabb does.

Patrick Bacher, 47, of Wausau, tried to get a license to marry his partner Monday in Marathon County but left "crestfallen" after being told Crabb's order wasn't complete and the county clerk's office was waiting for directions from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office, which records marriages. A spokeswoman for the office said previously it wouldn't act without direction from Van Hollen.

"We just want to be treated like everybody else," Bacher said, adding that he and his friends have been calling clerks who aren't issuing licenses and demanding to know why. "I don't think we should be treated like second-class citizens," he said. "It's just time to take it to that next level."

A few clerks said they decided to accept applications after their county attorneys left the matter in their hands. Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis and Trempealeau County Clerk Paul Syverson, both Democrats, said they looked to Dane County, which is home to the state capital, Madison, and others before deciding to move ahead.

"I would have never done it if I was the only one," Loomis said. But after reading legal opinions from county attorneys and watching her peers, "I just feel that there's enough stuff out, that it doesn't give me justification to say no to it," she said.

But other clerks said they felt like they were getting mixed messages and wanted to wait for clear-cut guidance.

"You have the attorney general who gives you a direction, and a court that gives you another direction," said Green Lake County Clerk Margaret Bostelmann, a Republican. She added, "I just want to do the right thing."

Chippewa County Clerk Sandi Frion, a Democrat, said she also has held off on issuing licenses because she felt like Crabb sent conflicting signals by declaring the ban unconstitutional but not ordering clerks to issue licenses.

"It's frustrating at this point," Frion said. "We unfortunately don't have the answers we're looking for."

Menominee County Clerk Laura Pecore, another Democrat, said she planned to wait until after Crabb's next court hearing but she also hadn't had anyone in her county seek a license yet.

"I really don't know what I would do for sure," she said.


Richmond reported from Madison, Wis.