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Today is a crucial milestone in Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage debate. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago hears arguments from the state, that a decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb against Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned.

“We argued before Judge Crabb in Madison, and will make the same argument in Chicago, that there’s no legitimate purpose for this marriage ban,” said Chris Ahmuty is with the ACLU of Wisconsin, which represents same-sex couples who originally challenged the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex unions.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues that there is no fundamental right for the state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The appeals court is considering the Wisconsin challenge in combination with a similar decision from Indiana, where a gay marriage ban was also overturned.

“We would hope that they would find in our plaintiffs favor, and not stay the decision,” Ahmuty said. “Thereby allowing couples to go to county clerks all across the state of Wisconsin and get marriage licences, and get marriages happening again.”

Bill Hurtubise of Racine is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to end Wisconsin’s constitutional ban prohibiting same-sex marriage. “Our families accept us, our friends accept us, our employers accepts us, our neighbors accept us, our church accepts us. We now hope our government will accept us,” Hurtubise said Monday.

Hurtubise said the ban makes it impossible for him and his partner to adequately protect their three adopted children. “The law states only one parent can adopt children if the couple is not married, and being in a relationship like ours, we cannot be married.”

Julaine Appling of the Wisconsin Family Council said it’s unfortunate the constitutionality of the measure will be decided by judges. “Because when they ran to the courts to get their way in this state, to try to undo our marriage amendment and the will of the people, they took the public out of it,” Appling said.

While nearly 60 percent of state voters approved the ban in a statewide referendum eight years ago, recent polls indicate most Wisconsinites now favor the right of gays to marry.

Almost everyone knows someone that’s gay,” said Steve Starkey, who heads the Madison-based group called OutReach. “They have a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor that’s gay. And so it’s not as much of a stigma as it was.”

Appling is skeptical that the polling data accurately reflects the reality of attitudes toward gay marriage. “I would contend that the people of Wisconsin are still the people of Wisconsin,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had all the substantive change in our people that some say.”

WIBA & WRJN contributed to this report

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