Dozens of gay couples married on Saturday at courthouses in Wisconsin, taking advantage of what most believed would be a small window of opportunity before a judge’s decision overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban was put on hold.
Many couples who married said the federal judge’s decision on Friday had caught them by surprise. Couples began lining up outside the Milwaukee County courthouse at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened.
Also on Friday, seven couples filed a federal lawsuit challenging the North Dakota constitution’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, making it the last U.S. state with a ban to be sued by gay couples seeking the right to wed in their home state.
The North Dakota lawsuit, filed in federal court, challenges both that state’s ban on gay marriage and its refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who legally wed in other states.
That means cases are currently pending in all 31 states with gay marriage bans. Gay couples can already wed in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
Judges have overturned several state bans since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states and barred gay couples from receiving federal marriage benefits.
Many of those rulings are being appealed, and Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen vowed to do the same.
While the judge declared Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, she did not order the state to allow such marriages. Instead, she asked the eight gay 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 the request next week and he expected her to explicitly order marriages to begin after that.
Meanwhile, Van Hollen asked the judge on Friday to issue an emergency order 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.
Despite the uncertainty in Wisconsin over whether gay couples could immediately be given marriage licenses, county clerks in Madison and Milwaukee began issuing licenses to same-sex couples soon after the ruling.
Milwaukee County issued 146 marriage licenses to same-sex couples from Friday afternoon to 1 p.m. Saturday, when the clerk’s office closed. In Madison, the Dane County clerk’s office issued 129 licenses from the time of the court decision to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. An employee said most of those were for gay couples but a few opposite-sex couples had taken advantage of the extended hours.