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Married or not? Status of same-sex couples in question

Four same-sex couples in St. Croix and Pierce counties took advantage of last week’s brief window to obtain licenses, hold ceremonies and receive marriage certificates, say local officials.

But the implication of those marriages -- and the other 550 same-sex marriages registered in Wisconsin last week -- is still uncertain.

On June 6, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ordered county clerks to stop enforcing Wisconsin’s prohibition on gay marriages. A week later, she put that ruling on hold while an appeal from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is pending.

This Monday U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and three Wisconsin Congress members, including Third District Rep. Ron Kind, wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking that the same-sex couples in Wisconsin who have received marriage licenses be recognized for federal purposes.

St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell said her office received six marriage license applications from same-sex couples. Of those, five paid the extra $10 fee that allowed the clerk to waive the five-day waiting period. One couple did not waive the fee and that application is being held, said Campbell.

Of the couples who received licenses in St. Croix County, three registered their marriages with her office last week, said Register of Deeds Beth Pabst. To be complete, the form issued by the clerk’s office must be signed by an officiant and two witnesses, dated and registered, said Pabst.

Campbell said one couple who received a license from her office planned to wed in Pierce County. That marriage was certified there, said Pierce Register of Deeds Vicki Nelson Monday.

The fifth couple was planning a June 20 ceremony, said Campbell.

While two couples applied for marriage licenses in Pierce County, neither asked for a waiver of the waiting period, said County Clerk Jamie Feuerhelm. “So those licenses will not be issued.”

The Pierce County marriage license cost is $80, and the waiver fee is an extra $10.

“They had that option,” Feuerhelm said. “That option was available. They, for whatever reason, chose not to take it.”

Pabst said her office certified the three same-sex marriages, using the same procedure it uses to certify other marriages and sent the information onto Wisconsin’s Vital Records Office.

“We’ve been given no legal advice by the State Vital Records Office,” said Pabst, adding that her office was “in limbo” as to how to proceed.

Crabb’s June 13 order to stop issuing the licenses didn't address the legal status of the gay marriages held last week, and statements by state officials have not removed the uncertainty.

The Associated Press surveyed all 72 counties and reported that as of midday June 12, 555 same-sex couples had gotten married in Wisconsin.

The Vital Records Office started processing same-sex marriage licenses last week Wednesday after reportedly receiving guidance from Van Hollen's office that it could move ahead.

But the next day, Van Hollen said same-sex couples with marriage licenses aren't legally married because Crabb hadn't issued an order telling county clerks how to interpret her ruling striking down the law.

The lawmakers who wrote to the U.S. attorney general asked him to intervene.

“To date, same-sex couples across Wisconsin have received marriage licenses, and officials in counties throughout the state continue to issue licenses to eligible couples,” says the letter from four of Wisconsin’s federal lawmakers. “These loving couples have valid marriage licenses and should receive the same federal recognition that all other married Wisconsin couples currently do.”

The letter noted that following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer, the Department of Justice has led the federal government’s effort to ensure that all lawfully married same-sex couples have equal access to federal rights and benefits.

As a result, couples who had legally married can access benefits including federal taxes, immigration, federal employee and service member benefits, and family and medical leave.

A Wisconsin constitutional amendment, approved by 59 percent of voters in 2006, prohibits gay marriage.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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