Democrats seek federal benefits for gay couples

Gay pride flag
File photo (MGN Online/chastity.com)

MILWAUKEE (AP) – The four Democratic members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday to recognize the marriages of more than 500 gay couples who recently wed in the state.

Couples began marrying June 6 after a federal judge declared Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. As of midday Thursday, 555 same-sex couples had married, based on a survey by The Associated Press. U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb put a stop to additional ceremonies late Friday because the state is appealing her decision.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Reps. Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan sent Holder a letter asking him to recognize the marriages that had already been performed. They noted Holder previously recognized marriages performed in similar circumstances in Utah and Michigan.

“We are grateful for this tremendous leadership on behalf of fairness and equality,” the Democrats wrote. “We ask that you similarly declare that those same-sex couples who married in Wisconsin since the June 6 decision are equally entitled to the federal benefits they deserve.”

Holder’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Federal recognition would allow couples to file their federal tax returns jointly, qualify for Social Security survivor benefits and help foreign spouses with immigration. The spouses of federal workers and service members could qualify for health, retirement and other benefits.

Clerks in all but a dozen of Wisconsin’s 72 counties issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the week between Crabb’s initial decision and her order stopping weddings. Many of the clerks also waived Wisconsin’s five-day waiting period so couples could get licenses and marry quickly.

Outagamie County Clerk Lori O’Bright was among the clerks who did not waive the waiting period for most couples, and a half-dozen went to her office in Appleton with about 150 supporters on Monday to get refunds on the $100 application fee, activist Kathy Flores said.

O’Bright initially agreed to give back the state’s portion of the fee, which was $55, but kept the county’s share. County Executive Thomas Nelson later said he would refund the county’s fee from his budget, rather than the clerk’s.

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