MADISON, Wis. - A federal court has overturned a state ban on same sex marriage and the Dane County Clerk plans to stay open late to issue licenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight gay couples in February challenging Wisconsin's constitutional ban on gay marriage. The lawsuit contends the state's ban denies gay couples the civil rights that other married couples enjoy.
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U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued the ruling Friday, but it wasn't clear whether same-sex marriages could immediately begin.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell told News 3 the office will remain open until 9 p.m. and staff will be brought in from other counties to help Friday and Saturday. He said he plans to begin issuing licenses at 5 p.m.
A statement from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said current law remains in force and he will appeal the ruling.
"In light of the decision of some county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, I will be filing emergency motions in the federal courts to stay Judge Crabb's order."he wrote. "The United States Supreme Court, after a referral from Justice Sotomayor, stayed a lower court's decision striking down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. There is no reason to believe the Supreme Court would treat Wisconsin's ban any differently."
The 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.
The ruling (download ruling) states,"I conclude that the Wisconsin laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs' right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the equal protection clause."
The ruling goes on to say, "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. 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."
Clerks in the state's two largest cities of Milwaukee and Madison had been preparing for such a ruling by bringing in extra staff to handle an expected flood of marriage-license applicants.
Gov. Scott Walker has been a strong proponent of the constitutional same-sex marriage ban that was approved by state voters in 2006. A Walker spokesperson said, "It is correct for the attorney general, on this or any other issue, to defend the constitution of the state of Wisconsin, especially in a case where the people voted to amend it."
The state was given until June 16 to submit a proposed injunction of the ruling.
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