MILWAUKEE — Dozens of gay couples got married at courthouses in Milwaukee and Madison early Saturday, taking advantage of what may be a small window in which to get hitched before the state’s same-sex marriage ban is reinstated, at least temporarily.
Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said couples were lined up outside his courthouse at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened. Within 30 minutes of opening, about 45 couples had applied for marriage licenses.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued her ruling Friday afternoon just as the gay festival PrideFest was starting in Milwaukee. Many couples who married Saturday morning said they had elected to attend the festival the night before since they already had plans with friends. Then they got up early and went to the courthouse.
Craig Cook and Marshall Draper arrived about 8:30 a.m. and found nearly two dozen couples in line ahead of them. Cook, 43, said he and others had been hoping Crabb would make a decision in time for PrideFest. He and Marshall planned to go back to the festival Saturday after being married by a Unitarian minister outside the courthouse.
“Had this been legal, we probably would have done this 20 years ago,” Cook said. He said he and Marshall would likely have a reception in a few weeks, but “this was as formal a wedding as I’ve ever wanted.”
Rachel Arbit , 27, and Ashley Norris, 30, tried to get married Friday evening but arrived at the Milwaukee courthouse to find they needed Arbit’s birth certificate and Social Security card, both of which were locked in a safe deposit box at a bank nearly three hours away. They returned to the courthouse Saturday morning and waited for Arbit’s mother to arrive with the documents.
“We don’t know how long it’s going to last, this ruling,” Norris said. “And we don’t want to miss out.”
While Crabb declared Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, she did not order the state to allow such marriages. Instead, she asked the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the gay marriage law.
Attorney Larry Dupuis, who represented the couples who sued, said the American Civil Liberties Union would respond to Crabb’s request next week and he expected her to explicitly order marriages to begin after that.
Meanwhile, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen asked Crabb on Friday to issue an emergency stay halting the issuing of further marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was expected to petition a federal appeals court for a similar order on Monday.
Arbit and Norris said they had already planned an October wedding before a rabbi and more than 100 guests and would still have that ceremony. On Saturday, they planned to go to dinner with family and friends before heading to Pridefest that night.
“This is like a total bonus,” Arbit said.
More than 120 couples married in Milwaukee and Madison on Friday night. The Dane County Clerk’s office said it had issued 30 licenses by 11 a.m. Saturday and would remain open until 5 p.m. The Milwaukee County Clerk’s office was closing at 1 p.m.
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006 to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The ACLU filed a lawsuit in February arguing that the ban violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
Jean Salzer, 49, and Linda Kapheim, 52, said they were surprised how quickly Crabb acted and hadn’t been prepared for Friday’s ruling. Two of their friends married Friday night while they were at a Tony Bennett concert in Milwaukee.
“Then we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Salzer said.
They married Saturday morning. Though they have been together for 14 years, Kapheim said, “It just makes it so real for family.”
“I think there’s that legitimacy piece,” Salzer agreed. “You are the same as everyone else. Someone with power says we are married.”