Federal judge puts same-sex marriages in Wisconsin on hold


A federal judge on Friday delayed gay marriage in Wisconsin to allow time for the state to seek an appeal of an earlier ruling that made it the 20th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriages.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison, Wis., struck down the state’s 2006 ban on same-sex marriage. But she did not say in her ruling whether county clerks were allowed to issue marriage licenses or were prohibited from doing so until further rulings.

The decision threw the state into confusion as most county clerks issued licenses and hundreds of couples married. But some clerks refused to issue licenses after state officials, including state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, warned that they considered such licenses to be illegal and that clerks could face prosecution if they issued them.

The confusion over Wisconsin’s status was part of the ongoing legal maneuvers on the issue of same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. That decision opened up a flood of legal actions on the issue around the country.

Several courts, including those in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, have struck down state bans on same-sex marriage on the grounds that individuals’ constitutional rights were being violated. But enforcement has been delayed while appeals are being considered in two federal circuits.

Many expect the issue of same-sex marriage to eventually work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As of Friday, 19 states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage. Court cases to permit gay marriage and related issues are pending in every other state.

In Wisconsin, clerks in almost all 72 counties granted more than 500 marriage licenses after last week’s ruling. Van Hollen maintained that same-sex couples who wed since last week’s ruling were not legally married, and he warned that county officials who issued those licenses could face criminal penalties for violating the state’s marriage law.