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Some Clerks Deny Wisconsin Gay Couples Licenses

by Gretchen Ehlke and M.L. Johnson .
Monday Jun 9, 2014

Gay couples seeking marriage licenses were turned away in some Wisconsin counties on Monday, with clerks waiting for guidance from the courts or state government before accepting applications.

Hundreds of couples married over the weekend in Milwaukee and Madison after a federal judge declared Wisconsin's ban on gay marriages unconstitutional. County clerks in the state's two largest cities extended office hours to allow couples to take advantage of what most believe will be a narrow window before the judge's decision is put on hold.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb has scheduled a 1 p.m. hearing on Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's request for an emergency stay to keep more licenses from being issued. Van Hollen also has appealed Crabb's decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked it for a stay.

Clerks in several counties said they would not issue licenses until they have received directions from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office, which keeps marriage records. Jennifer Miller, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services, which oversees vital statistics, said it would not issue any guidance until it received directions from Van Hollen.

Brown County Deputy Clerk Justin Schmit said he turned away about 15 couples in Green Bay on Monday morning, and an employee in the Racine County clerk's office said she had too.

Crabb's decision created some confusion among clerks because she declared the ban unconstitutional but also said she wanted the American Civil Liberties Union to tell her exactly what it wanted her to block in the gay marriage law. The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the ban in January on behalf of eight gay couples.

"Phones have been ringing off the hook. We've probably fielded 20 calls" from couples interested in applying for licenses, La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said.

But she said she had been told by a county attorney not to issue licenses until after Crabb's June 16 deadline for the ACLU to respond. St. Croix County deputy clerk Cheryl Harmon said her office in Hudson had been told the same thing by its attorney and also was waiting.

A few counties joined Milwaukee and Dane County - which includes the state capital of Madison - in issuing licenses. Kenosha County Clerk Mary T. Schuch-Krebs said she gave a license to one couple Monday after waiving the five-day waiting period. The couple told her they planned to marry that night at a relative's home.

Schuch-Krebs said she considered Crabb's ruling enough guidance.

"I don't see anything that tells me otherwise. What law would I cite to tell them they couldn't marry?" she said.

Milwaukee and Dane counties issued 283 marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday and Saturday. The numbers might have been higher in Dane County, where 137 licenses were issued, except many residents were already in Milwaukee for the start of PrideFest, an annual gay festival, when Crabb's decision was announced Friday afternoon. Wisconsin requires residents to apply for marriage licenses in the counties where they live.

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