U.S. District Court Judge Overturns Wisconsin Same-Sex Marriage Ban

June 10, 2014

Same sex marriage wisconsinOn Friday, June 6, Judge Barbara Crabb of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin issued a ruling in the case of Wolf v. Walker, striking down a state constitutional amendment codified in Art. XIII, § 13, as a violation of the rights of same-sex couples to equal protection and fair treatment under the law. The amendment, limiting marriage in the state as between one man and one woman, was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2006—every county in the state, with the exception of Dane County, voted to approve it. However, since then, support for the amendment appears to have changed—in a poll conducted by Marquette Law School and released on May 21, 2014, 55% of registered voters favored allowing same-sex marriage, with 37% opposed, and 6% saying they do not know. The decision is the 20th consecutive ruling by a state or federal judge to overturn a same-sex marriage ban. Currently, same-sex marriage is allowed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Another eight of the remaining states have seen their marriage bans struck down, with appeals currently in process.

The decision has created some confusion as to whether Wisconsin couples could immediately marry in the state. Judge Crabb did not stay her ruling, but also did not issue an order blocking enforcement of the marriage ban. Rather, she gave the plaintiff couples in the case until June 16 to say what they wanted done to enforce her ruling, and allowed the state another week to reply. The Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen immediately filed an emergency request for a stay from Judge Crabb’s decision, arguing that the order should be put on hold pending appeal. Van Hollen also filed a similar motion in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Monday, June 9, 2014. Governor Scott Walker has not publicly commented on the decision, but did issue a statement that–“it is correct for the attorney general, on this or any other issue, to defend the constitution of the state of Wisconsin, especially in a case where the people voted to amend it.”
Meanwhile, the clerks in Dane and Milwaukee County immediately began issuing marriage licenses on Friday night, and kept the courthouses open late on Friday and on Saturday to continue providing services. Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell deputized numerous additional people to issue marriage licenses and four Dane County Circuit Court judges were on hand to perform marriages on the spot. As of mid-Saturday, 97 couples had been married. On Monday, another 11 county clerks in Wisconsin’s 72 counties were issuing marriage licenses.