Wisconsin News

County Clerks could face penalties for same-sex marriage licenses

WI Attorney General says county clerks broke the law

Wisconsin judge puts same-sex marriages on hold

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Wisconsin's Attorney general says county clerks could face penalties for issuing same-sex marriage licenses.       

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional last Friday.

Since Crabbs' original ruling last week, county clerks across the state of Wisconsin, including La Crosse County, have been issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

County clerks were not given a lot of direction as to whether or not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Sixty of Wisconsin's 72 counties decided to go ahead and issue the licenses, but now Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is saying they broke the law by doing so, they could face charges.

Since Monday, the La Crosse County clerk's office has received seven marriage applications from same-sex couples.

"There's a mandatory five-day waiting period," said Ginny Dankmeyer, La Crosse County clerk.

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled the 2006 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin is unconstitutional.

"We asked several -- the state office, attorney general -- several people to give us guidance on what we should be doing," said Dankmeyer.

But Dankmeyer says she never received any clarification.

"Each county clerk was in essence left to their own to determine what that ruling meant," said Dankmeyer.

With careful consideration, Dankmeyer decided to allow same-sex couples to apply for marriage in La Crosse County.

"The couples that come in here, they have been waiting 10-20 years for this right," said Dankmeyer.

However, now, Wisconsin's attorney general is saying county clerks could face penalties for issuing the licenses, but Dankmeyer doesn't seem too concerned.

"I'm pretty sure our district attorneys have more important things to do than charge county clerks with issuing same-sex marriage licenses," said Dankmeyer.

Jackson County District Attorney Gerald Fox agrees. He declined to comment but released a statement.

"My focus in this office is to try to protect the community in terms of safety... I am very busy trying to lock up violent offenders so this is way down the list of things I worry about on a daily basis," said Dankmeyer. "Based on Judge Crabb's ruling, my county clerk does not face prosecution if she decides to issue licenses."

Dankmeyer said she did the best she could given the circumstances of the situation.

"We were kind of left in the dark and had to make a decision," said Dankmeyer.

Van Hollen sent out a letter to the district attorneys clarifying that he is not encouraging anyone to file charges, but it is a legal option.

The seven couples who applied for marriage licenses in La Crosse will have to put a hold on their marriages. A marriage application is good for 30 days; if the stay goes longer than that, the couples will have to reapply.

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