After a whirlwind of confusion and rushed marriages across Wisconsin, a federal judge on Friday put same-sex marriages in the state on hold.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb's ruling in Madison came late Friday, exactly one week after she struck down the state's 2006 prohibition against same-sex marriages. Last week, she didn't direct local clerks on how to handle the ruling, leaving interpretation to individual county clerks that largely issued licenses.
"After seeing the expression of joy on the faces of so many newly wedding couples featured in media reports, I find it difficult to impose a stay on the event that is responsible for eliciting that emotion, even if the stay is only temporary," Crabb wrote. "Same-sex couples have waited many years to receive equal treatment under the law, so it is understandable that they do not want to wait any longer."
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had requested that Crabb's ruling be put on hold pending his appeal.
Nearly 600 licenses were issued in the 60 counties that allowed them. Another 12 counties in Wisconsin declined to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Some clerks who said they would issue licenses decided to stick to a five-day waiting period. Now those couples in the middle of the waiting period are limbo.
After Friday's ruling, Roger Bertschausen, senior minister at Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, Wis., said he had to cancel 10 weddings planned for Monday.
"It's not fair for these couples. They're being punished for living in the wrong county," Bertschausen said. "As a county resident, I'm embarrassed and I'm ashamed of our clerk."
Throughout the week, same-sex couples in nearby Winnebago and Calumet counties could be wed without a wait period, but Outagamie County stuck by its five-day delay, creating frustration. Outagamie County Clerk Lori O'Bright said Friday that she relied on legal advice from the county attorney but took responsibility for the decision to adhere to wait times.
"The waiver is my decision, and I feel that I'm applying my policies fairly," O'Bright said. "It's unfortunate that certain sides of this issue don't see it as fair, but I'm continuing with my policies in the office."
O'Bright processed 27 requests for licenses and granted just one, because of a sick family member that qualified under the clerk's waiver provision.
Van Hollen said he was very pleased with the new ruling.
"County clerks do not have authority under Wisconsin law to issue same-sex marriage licenses," he said in a statement. "Judge Crabb's stay makes this abundantly clear."
Wisconsin state officials are appealing the judge's June 6 ruling to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
In Portage County, where the clerk refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples, Allen Rasmussen and Keith Kitsembel asked nine times since Monday for a marriage license. They were part of a silent protest Friday outside the courthouse in Stevens Point, Wis., before the federal judge issued her stay.
Back in Appleton, the waiting period created the same result: no marriage license.
"We're all heartbroken because none of us in this county stood a chance to get married," said Kathy Flores, Appleton's diversity coordinator who planned to get a license this month. "Clerks can waive the waiting period for no reason at all. She could have changed her rules."
Couples that paid the $100 filing fee in Appleton planned to demand refunds Monday morning, she said.
Among them are Sam Tassoul and Sara Rabideau of Appleton. Rabideau said she anticipated a dispute over the fee and that the couple instead would be wed in Minnesota this fall.
"It's utter disappointment and complete frustration right now, mainly with the clerk," Rabideau said. "We've waited almost 11 years, and this appeal is going to take more than a few months."
Crabb's order Friday did not address whether same-sex marriages completed in the past week are valid.
Wisconsin's constitutional amendment, approved by 59% of voters in 2006, outlawed gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The American Civil Liberties Union said the ban violated the constitutional rights of eight gay couples to equal protection and due process, and Crabb agreed.
Gay-rights activists have won 15 consecutive lower court cases since a landmark Supreme Court ruling this past summer with Wisconsin being the latest. The state is among 13 with same-sex marriage cases pending before appeals courts.
The issue also could be settled in the next session of the Supreme Court.
Nick Penzenstadler also reports for The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent. Contributing: The Stevens Point (Wis.) Journal; The Associated Press.