US: Judge strikes down Wisconsin same-sex marriage ban

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APPLETON, Wis. — Same-sex couples are ready to tie the knot in some parts of Wisconsin after a federal judge ruled Friday that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the ban, making 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.
It wasn't clear whether Crabb's 88-page ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriages to begin immediately, but Milwaukee and Dane county officials began issuing licenses and officiants were at the clerk's office ready to go in Dane County. Both counties were keeping clerk's office open past regular closing hours Friday.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says he will seek an emergency federal court order to stop the marriages in light of clerks going ahead with marriages.
Meanwhile, Outagamie and Winnebago county clerks told Post-Crescent earlier Friday, prior to the ruling, that they would not extend office hours it the ban were lifted. The clerks offices were closing up shop for the weekend when the judge issued her ruling on Friday afternoon.
"We're not going to be running any additional hours. I don't for opposite-sex couples so we're going to have the same hours," Outagamie County Clerk Lori O'Bright.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of four gay couples, then later expanded to eight, challenging Wisconsin's constitutional ban on gay marriage. Messages left with ACLU's attorneys were not immediately returned Friday.
The lawsuit alleged that Wisconsin's ban violates the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, asserting the prohibition deprives gay couples of the legal protections that married couples enjoy simply because of their gender.
State marriage bans have been falling around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Regardless of the wait times and uncertainties, community members are preparing for same-sex couples to marry in the Appleton area.
Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton will be open on Monday to perform same-sex marriages for anyone who wants a religious ceremony, said the Rev. Roger Bertschausen, the fellowship's senior pastor.
"We'll be open all day. They don't have to call us. They can just come by," Bertschausen said.
Couple Dottie Mathews and Rosie Geiser also hope to be performing weddings.
"We're licensed to do weddings, I'm an ordained minister, Rosie is a lay minister. We hope next week we're really busy performing wedding ceremonies for people," Mathews said.
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006, to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. The state has offered a domestic partner registry that affords gay couples a host of legal rights since 2009, but its future is in doubt; the conservative-leaning Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently weighing whether it violates the constitution.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, has a long history of opposing gay marriage and Wisconsin's 2009 domestic registry law. But in recent months he's avoided talking directly about the state's ban, which he supported, saying it's an issue that needs to be decided by the courts and state voters who can amend the constitution.
Walker's likely Democratic challenger in the governor's race, Mary Burke, supports legalizing gay marriage.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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