David Michael Miller
In June, 215 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in Dane County
A controversial anti-abortion activist has asked county clerks around the state for copies of marriage license applications processed from June 5 to June 16. Roughly 550 same-sex couples rushed to marry in the week after U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's marriage ban unconstitutional on June 6. She stayed her own order a week later.
Matthew Trewhella, the pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church in West Allis, has also written county clerks asking them to "NOT issue licenses to homosexuals."
"You have the opportunity to defy the federal judge and the lackey state officials that are doing her bidding in order to defend what is right and good," he wrote in an Oct. 8 letter. "Your interposition is needed and necessary."
The U.S. Supreme Court on October 6 declined to review Wisconsin's marriage lawsuit, effectively leaving Crabb's ruling in place. On Monday, Gov. Scott Walker instructed state agencies to recognize the marriages that took place in June.
Trewhella says that he made the open records request only to disprove press accounts that a majority of the state's counties issued licenses to same-sex couples in June. The Associated Press, for instance, reported that 60 of the state's 72 counties were issuing such licenses.
"Were there 62 county clerks issuing licenses to homosexual couples? That's what we wanted to determine because we didn't believe that would be accurate. And it's not accurate."
Trewhella says of the records he has received from 40 counties, only six indicate licenses were issued to same-sex couples.
Bruce Strama, Taylor County clerk and president of the Wisconsin County Clerks Association, says his group did not keep track of the counties that issued licenses to same-sex couples.
In fulfilling the open records request for Taylor County, Strama says he emailed the public portion of five applications to Trewhella. One was from a same-sex couple. Because the county did not waive its waiting period from application to license, though, the couple was not able to wed before Crabb issued her stay.
"For us, it's a simple request," says Strama of Trewhella's appeal for records.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell says that he forwarded Trewhella's request to his corporation counsel. "We have 10 days to respond," McDonell says, noting his office received the request on Oct. 6.
'Bound by the oath'
Strama says he and other county clerks have no choice but to abide by Crabb's ruling on same-sex marriage.
"We are bound by the oath that we made that we are going to follow the constitution and state law," he says. "We go with whatever the [judicial] decision is."
Trewhella said in his letter that he and others are ready to support any clerks who refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
"If you do stand in defiance to this immorality and tyranny, we want you to know that we will rally around you at all costs -- with our persons, with our finances, with our prayers."
He also says that the Liberty Counsel, a national legal organization, is "ready and willing" to defend any clerks who refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Charla Bansley, a spokeswoman for Liberty Council, was not aware of this when contacted by a reporter. "This is news to me," she says. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, was traveling Monday and could not be reached for comment
Mercy Seat Christian Church is a Protestant church "committed to declaring God's holy Law and great Salvation to the nations," according to its website. "The Scriptures are our rule for faith and conduct."
Trewhella became a national figure after co-founding Missionaries to the Preborn, a Milwaukee anti-abortion group, in 1990. The group began demonstrating at abortion clinics and trying to block access. Members were charged with trespass and disorderly conduct.
According to a 2007 piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Trewhella signed a statement in 1994 saying it was okay to be violent against doctors who provide abortions. Paul Hill, one of the other signers and also a Presbyterian minister, later shot and killed Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard as they were entering a Florida abortion clinic. Hill was convicted of murder and executed by lethal injection.