Metro Weekly

Federal judge strikes down Wisconsin same-sex marriage ban

Photo: Wisconsin State Capitol. Credit: Taber Andrew Bain/flickr.

Photo: Wisconsin State Capitol. Credit: Taber Andrew Bain/flickr.

Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban was found unconstitutional by a federal judge Friday.

“Wisconsin laws prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs’ right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the equal protection clause,” U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled.

In her decision, Crabb stated that her ruling is not meant to disparage those lawmakers and citizens who voted in good conscience to ban same-sex marriage in the state.

“This case is not about whether marriages between same-sex couples are consistent or inconsistent with the teachings of a particular religion, whether such marriages are moral or immoral or whether they are something that should be encouraged or discouraged,” Crabb wrote. “It is not even about whether the plaintiffs in this case are as capable as opposite-sex couples of maintaining a committed and loving relationship or raising a family together. Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.”

Under these circumstances, personal beliefs, anxiety about change and discomfort about an unfamiliar way of life must give way to a respect for the constitutional rights of individuals, just as those concerns had to give way for the right of Amish people to educate their children according to their own values, Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), for Jehovah’s Witnesses to exercise their religion freely, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), and for interracial couples to marry the person they believed was irreplaceable. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). In doing this, courts do not “endorse” marriage between same-sex couples, but merely affirm that those couples have rights to liberty and equality under the Constitution, just as heterosexual couples do. 

Crabb was nominated to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter and has served since 1979. The case was originally filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of eight same-sex couples seeking to marry in Wisconsin or have their marriages performed in other states recognized in Wisconsin.

Same-sex couples are not anticipated to be able to marry in Wisconsin immediately. UPDATE: Some clerks have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the Associated Press. Crabb is expected to consider a stay of her ruling before the end of June. In a statement, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would appeal the ruling, which he described as a setback. “I anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will give finality to this issue in their next term,” Van Hollen continued.

Last month, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 — appeared to distance himself from the case, which he is named in.

“Any federal judge has got to look at that law not only with respect to the state’s constitution but what it means in terms of the U.S. Constitution, as well. Again, I’m not going to pretend to tell a federal judge in that regard what he or she should do about it,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “…I don’t know what (allowing gay marriage) means. Voters don’t talk to me about that. They talk to me about the economy. They talk to me about their kids’ schools.”

Friday’s ruling is the latest in a string of federal and state court wins for same-sex marriage following last June’s sweeping U.S. Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. Windsor — striking down the federal government’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Since then, federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Oregon. 

Wisconsin Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.