David Michael Miller
The Dane County Clerk's office gets ready to start issuing marriage licenses on Friday evening.
Renee Currie and Shari Roll have been a couple for 10 years, but they didn't feel the same security that legally married couples have always taken for granted.
What if something should happen to one of them, they worried, and the other wouldn't have legal rights to care for them? "We've heard so many horror stories about people getting in car accidents," Roll said. "Or what if [Renee] had an asthma attack?"
So when the couple learned Friday afternoon that U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Wisconsin's prohibition on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, they rushed to the Dane County Clerk's office. The couple were the first in line to get a marriage license.
"It feels good to finally be accepted for just being us," Roll said. Around 6:30 p.m., the couple were finally married, in front of numerous TV cameras and loud cheers.
Although there was some uncertainty about whether the ruling definitively allowed same-sex marriage, Dane County officials interpreted Crabb's ruling as the law of the land and began issuing licenses shortly after 5 p.m. Milwaukee County is also reportedly issuing licenses.
"This is a happy and historic day in Wisconsin. It's been a long time coming, it's been too long coming, but it's here," said County Executive Joe Parisi in a press conference before the county began issuing licenses. "Everyone who wants to marry in Wisconsin is now finally able to marry the person they love."
Two Dane County judges and four court commissioners were on hand Friday night to perform the ceremony.
Scott McDonell, Dane County clerk, said the office would stay open until 9 p.m. Friday and would be open Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. in order to issue licenses. McDonell said that couples who have been married in other states cannot get remarried in Wisconsin, but that their marriage is legally recognized here.
"This is truly an amazing day, and we're excited to be staying open tonight," he said.
Currie and Roll were married on the outside steps of the City-County Building, with numerous media capturing the moment and supporters cheering. The couple teared up during the ceremony.
Mike Quieto, who works in the City Clerk's office and has the power to marry people, performed the ceremony. Quieto told them at the end of the brief ceremony: "In the eyes of your community and finally, in the eyes of the law, you are a married couple."
Before marrying the two, Quieto said that he obtained the power to marry couples two years ago in order to perform the ceremony for some friends, a heterosexual couple. When he heard about Crabb's ruling, he swung by the clerk's office to see if anyone needed a marriage official.
"I'm gay but single," Quieto said. "But this is really exciting, whether you're getting married or not. Striking down the ban means that everyone is equal."
State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues that Crabb's ruling did not allow for same-sex marriage and is seeking an emergency stay.
But Dane County officials decided her ruling did just that. Dane County District Judge Rhonda Lanford, reserve Judge Mark Frankel and four court commissioners were on hand to marry couples.
Lanford said she wouldn’t comment on Van Hollen's contention. "I'm not going to comment on anything about the law," she said. "As a neutral judge, I'm following the mandate that Judge Crabb has decided, that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. As a constitutional officer and judge in Dane County, my job is to uphold the law."
Although Roll and Currie didn't waste time getting to the clerk's office, it took other couples a little longer. For about an hour, they were the only couple there as they waited for the clerk to begin issuing licenses.
Currie was stunned to be first in line. "It's surreal. I feel like we shouldn't be first in line because so many people did so much before us."
But they would not be alone for long. By 6:30, there were about a dozen couples waiting in line for licenses.
Lanford married the second couple, Wesley Radtke and Burke Tyer. The Sun Prairie couple had been planning to get married later this month in Iowa but was thrilled to get the right to do so in their home state.
Listen to their brief ceremony.
"It feels great. We weren't even thinking about the press being here," Radtke said. "And it's all surreal. I'm still so excited. Now we’re going to witness some friends of ours [marry]."
McDonell said that as of about 7:20 p.m., the county had issued more than 40 marriage licenses.
"Almost every one is getting married [here]," he said. "We were expecting a rush."
When asked about Van Hollen's efforts to appeal Crabb's ruling, McDonell said he's not surprised.
But, he added: "As soon as Judge Crabb said the amendment banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, from my point of view that's the law of land."
By 9 p.m., the county had issued at total of 61 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. McDonell plans to reopen the office at 9 a.m. Saturday.