CHICAGO - A U.S. appeals court in Chicago has ruled that gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana are unconstitutional.
Thursday's decision by a three-judge panel at the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals bumps the number of states where gay marriage will be legal from 19 to 21. The decision was unanimous.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell called the court ruling against Wisconsin's marriage ban a victory.
McDonell said his office cannot legally issue any more same-sex marriage licenses until the final publication of the court's opinion, which allows the 7th Circuit decision to be rendered and a mandate issued from the court of appeals.
"Now a two to three week wait begins. This is because the trial court's rulings, including the stay, remains in place until the mandate is issued from the court of appeals. Then it will become clear if I can start issuing same sex marriage licenses again," McDonell said.
Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said he hopes to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples again soon. But he says he's waiting for legal advice because there are some questions about the court's decision.
"Fairness and equality are again upheld in court as being the law of our state. As a legislator I fought against the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and we have now seen equality prevail in yet another court of law," Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a statement. "It is time for Attorney General JB Van Hollen and Gov. Scott Walker to stop wasting state time and resources trying to prevent people who are in love from getting married and instead focus on creating jobs, fighting crime and supporting equality."
Wisconsin's attorney general said he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a federal appellate ruling striking down the state's gay marriage ban.
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's spokeswoman, Dana Brueck, said in an email to The Associated Press that Van Hollen has always believed the case will be decided in that court.
U.S. District Judge Barbra Crabb struck down the ban as unconstitutional in June.
Hundreds of gay couples married in the week between her decision and her order staying the ruling pending appeal. Van Hollen asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Crabb but the court refused on Thursday, saying the ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Brueck said the stay remains in place until all appeals are exhausted.
"Today's decision puts Wisconsin back on track to ensuring full equality for every American," Rep. Mark Pocan said in a statement. "It is clear discriminatory laws that treat LGBT couples as second-class citizens will not stand in a court of law."
"I urge Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen to respect the Court's ruling and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution," Pocan said. "In ruling after ruling, it has become unmistakable that the promise of America is everyone should be treated equally and with dignity. Today's ruling brings us one step closer to fulfilling that promise."
The Wisconsin and Indiana cases shifted to Chicago after their attorneys general appealed separate lower court rulings in June tossing the bans. The 7th Circuit stayed those rulings pending its own decision.
During oral arguments in August, one judge appointed by a Republican likened same-sex marriage bans to laws once barring interracial marriage. Judge Richard Posner said they derived from "hate ... and savage discrimination" of gays.
The states argued the prohibitions helped foster a centuries-old tradition.
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