(Photo: REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
A federal judge "reluctantly" put same-sex marriages in Wisconsin on hold on Friday, a week after she struck down the state's gay nuptial ban as unconstitutional allowing nearly 600 licenses to be issued.
"After seeing the expressions of joy on the faces of so many newly wedded couples featured in media reports, I find it difficult to impose a stay on the event that is responsible for eliciting that emotion, even if the stay is only temporary," wrote U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, who struck down the 2006 ban on same-sex marriage in a June 6 order without staying the ruling or clarifying if it takes effect immediately.
As a result, nearly 600 same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses in 60 counties in Wisconsin in the past week, according to USA Today. Another 12 counties declined to issue licenses.
On Friday, Crabb took note of the confusion that the ruling had created among county officials, but also indicated she was not responsible for it.
"They may have acted and they may have acted in response, but they did not act because I told them they could," she was quoted by Christian Science Monitor as telling lawyers in the hearing. "I never said anything about whether any county clerk could go forward with issuing a marriage license," she said. "That hasn't been decided."
The judge added, "Same-sex couples have waited many years to receive equal treatment under the law, so it is understandable that they do not want to wait any longer. However, a federal district court is required to follow the guidance provided by the Supreme Court."
The judge said she is having to grant the stay due to a U.S. Supreme Court stay that stopped gay couples from marrying in Utah after a federal judge struck down that state's ban in December.
"By staying this ruling, she has confirmed that Wisconsin's law regarding same-sex marriage remains in full force and effect," Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, was quoted as saying.
Van Hollen also said his office will appeal Crabb's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
John Knight, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who filed the case on behalf of same-sex couples, said they will quickly appeal the stay.
"In light of the decision of some county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, I will be filing emergency motions in the federal courts to stay Judge Crabb's order," the attorney general said after the June 6 ruling. "The United States Supreme Court, after a referral from Justice Sotomayor, stayed a lower court's decision striking down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. There is no reason to believe the Supreme Court would treat Wisconsin's ban any differently."
Van Hollen said the decision is a "setback." "We'll continue to defend the constitutionality of our traditional marriage laws and the constitutional amendment, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters," he said.
Federal judges in many states have struck down state amendments and laws banning same-sex marriage as unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court last June squashed a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.
Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in 19 states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – and the District of Columbia.