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Federal judge strikes down Wisconsin ban on same-sex marriage

Friday, June 6, 2014
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Updated: 7:30 p.m. CDT

MADISON, Wis. — A federal judge struck down Wisconsin’ ban on same-sex marriage Friday, the latest in a string of such rulings that have come in rapid succession across the United States.

Same sex-couples in two cities began getting married about an hour after the ruling despite confusion over whether the decision cleared the way for the marriages to begin immediately. Wisconsin’s attorney general quickly sought an emergency federal court order to stop the weddings.

Wisconsin Democrats praise same-sex marriage ruling

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats are praising a federal judge’s decision to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke called the ruling a victory for fairness and equality.

Congressman Mark Pocan says the ruling will end to poor treatment of gay couples.

Van Hollen said the ruling was a setback and he would appeal. Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t issued a statement on the ruling.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s ruling makes Wisconsin the 27th state where same-sex couples can marry under law or where a judge has ruled they ought to be allowed to wed.

Crabb issued the ruling late Friday, saying the law was unconstitutional. Van Hollen vowed to appeal the ruling.

But the judge also asked the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the law, then gave Van Hollen’s office a chance to respond. She said that after both sides respond, a process that could take weeks, she would decide whether to put her underlying decision on hold while it is appealed.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of four gay couples, then later expanded to eight, challenging Wisconsin’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. The lawsuit alleged that Wisconsin’s ban violates the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, asserting the prohibition deprives gay couples of the legal protections that married couples enjoy simply because of their gender.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb

One of the plaintiff couples got the news in Milwaukee, where the gay festival PrideFest opened Friday. 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.

“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.

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. ”

State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Elsewhere in the country, seven couples filed a federal lawsuit Friday challenging the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in North Dakota, which had been the only state whose ban had not been challenged in the courts. With Friday’s filing, cases are currently pending in all 31 states with gay marriage bans.

In 19 states and Washington, D.C., gay couples already can wed, with Oregon and Pennsylvania becoming the latest to join the list when federal judges struck down their bans and officials decided not to appeal.

Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006, to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar.

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Wisconsin has offered a domestic partner registry that affords gay couples a host of legal rights since 2009, but its future is in doubt; the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it violates the constitution.

Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, has a long history of opposing gay marriage and Wisconsin’s 2009 domestic registry law. But in recent months, he’s avoided talking directly about the state’s ban, saying it’s an issue that needs to be decided by the courts and state voters who can amend the constitution.

Walker’s likely Democratic challenger in the governor’s race, Mary Burke, supports legalizing same-sex marriage.

The opinion is here.

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