Almost eight years after it was approved by voters, Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage was struck down this year in federal court. The often contentious debate had an impact in communities across the state, making this issue one of our top stories of 2014.
Following unsuccessful challenges in state courts, opponents of the state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage took the issue to federal court in February. Marie Carlson of Milwaukee, one of the plaintiffs in the case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, said it was an opportunity to make a change so that one day she could “walk down the aisle with my love and marry her legally.”
Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen vowed to “vigorously defend” the amendment, which was approved by voters statewide in 2006. Governor Scott Walker also questioned the push, saying he had not seen any significant push statewide to overturn the ban.
On June 6th of this year, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. The decision resulted in a flood of same sex marriages statewide, with nearly 300 licenses issued in the first weekend alone. Linda Finn wed her partner of 34 years in Dane County shortly after the decision, saying it was something “I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime.”
The rush of marriages only lasted about a week before Judge Crabb put her decision on hold while the state appealed. A federal appeals court heard the case in late August, along with a similar challenge out of Indiana. Just over a week later, judges upheld the decisions to strike down the bans.
The state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take on the case, which declined to hear the challenge on October 6th, effectively allowing same sex marriages to continue. Pam Kleiss of Madison was among those celebrating the decision, saying it would allow her and her partner to be “who we always thought we were.”
Some opponents of gay marriage vowed to continue the fight, although Governor Scott Walker conceded that the legal battle was over and the state would abide by the decision. Walker said “the simple answer is we’re following the law as defined by the U.S. Court of Appeals, and ultimately because of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Since the final decision this fall, same sex marriages have continued in communities across Wisconsin.