County Clerks Left To Decide Whether Or Not To Marry Same-Sex Couples

Federal Judge Refuses To Clarify Ruling To Give Guidance To Clerks

People line up to get married inside the City-County Building in Madison, where Dane County Clerk Scott McDonnell elected to issue licenses to same-sex couples. Photo: Blue Cheddar (CC-BY-NC-ND).

There’s confusion among county clerks in Wisconsin about whether they can marry same-sex couples after a federal judge overturned Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision on Friday, while clearly stating that the state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, didn’t necessarily allow clerks to start giving out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Earlier on Monday, Crabb refused the state’s request to halt the marriages, nor did she offer any more guidance to clerks.

According to media reports by mid-afternoon on Monday, more than two-dozen county clerks were issuing marriage licenses to such couples. About the same number of clerks had decided not to.

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Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Novak said it’s been confusing.

“I’ll tell you, it’s an extremely grey area,” she said. “At least that would be my take on it.”

Novak had issued eight marriage licenses to same- sex couples as of Monday afternoon, but she said she expected more. She said many may be waiting because of the state’s attempts to overturn Crabb’s ruling.

“They’re somewhat in limbo even once they receive the license and have the ceremony,” said Novak. “I think some people, knowing that the state is pushing so hard for a stay, maybe are a little reluctant.”

Eau Claire County Clerk Janet Loomis says without clear direction from the she won’t marry gay couples.

“Every county is making that decision for itself, and personally, I feel that is not the way it should be either,” said Loomis. “There (are) 72 counties in Wisconsin and we should all be doing the same.”

Judge Crabb said it’s likely that she or another federal judge will likely stay her ruling and halt the marriages soon, but until then things would be status quo. The next hearing in the case that overturned the gay marriage ban is set for June 19.