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Same-sex weddings continue after judge declares Wisconsin ban unconstitutional

Pamela Norby (left) and Crystal Norby, who is five months pregnant, kiss after being married at the Milwaukee County Clerk’s office in Milwaukee on Friday, hours after a federal judge deemed Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (Brendan O'Brien / Reuters)

MADISON — On the day after a federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage, 36 more couples had received marriage licenses as of noon Saturday, according to the Dane County clerk.

Couples were led to the grass and steps outside the City-County Building for their ceremonies, just a block down from the State Capitol building, and the hubbub from the annual Cows on the Concourse and the weekly Farmers’ Market on the Capitol Square.

The clerk’s office, normally closed on Saturdays, had about 30 people working to answer phones, check documents and help people fill out forms.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the ban unconstitutional Friday, writing that it violated same-sex couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under law.

“Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution,” Crabb wrote.

Crabb did not issue an immediate injunction barring the state from enforcing the same-sex marriage ban and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has said he will appeal the ruling, leading to some disagreement over whether or not the law is still in effect.

Although Van Hollen said the ban remains in force, clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples soon after Crabb’s ruling was announced Friday afternoon.

By the time the Dane County Clerk’s Office closed Friday night, having stayed open late to perform the marriages, 61 couples had been wed. So that number was up to 97 by mid-day Saturday.

Van Hollen has filed an emergency motion to stop the marriages pending the appeal.

Given the court’s decision, however, Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell said he had no legal basis to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I have to follow the law, and the law right now is that the marriage ban is unconstitutional,” McDonell said.

Sixty eight same-sex couples picked up marriage licenses Friday night at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, which extended its hours into the weekend with Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele personally footing the bill for employee overtime. Nearly 70 more same-sex couples had picked up marriage licenses by 11 a.m. Saturday.

Nationwide, same-sex couples have the right to marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Judges in seven of the remaining 31 states have issued rulings striking down same-sex marriage bans, with those rulings stayed as they work their way through appellate courts.

In Wisconsin, voters in 2006 resoundingly approved the same-sex marriage amendment, 59 percent to 41 percent. Every county in the state except Dane voted for it.

But the most recent Marquette Law School poll, released May 21, found 55 percent of registered voters statewide now favor allowing gay marriage, while 37 percent oppose it and 6 percent say they do not know.

Also on Friday, seven couples filed a lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage and asserting the state must recognize such marriages conducted elsewhere.

North Dakota was the last state without a challenge to such a ban. As of Friday, every U.S. state had either legalized same-sex marriage or seen challenges to laws banning the practice.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Forum News Service contributed to this report.