Same-sex couples getting married in Winnebago Co.

Thumbnail for June 11, 2014 Bill Miston story
Thumbnail for June 11, 2014 Bill Miston story

OSHKOSH – It was a day that Emily Stacker and Brittany Teresinski weren’t expecting.

As a light rain fell outside the Winnebago County courthouse, the two became part of history as the county’s first, publicly-married, same-sex couple.

"I didn't think it was going to happen,” said Teresinski, after bringing her marriage license to the county’s register of deeds.

The county had previously chosen to wait for clarification from the state before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage last week.

Teresinski – and her now-wife – showed up to the courthouse, planning to protest the county's decision to wait.

When they arrived, they and other same-sex marriage hopefuls found out the county’s stance changed.

“We've been here since 8 o'clock this morning and we got a letter handed to us," said Teresinski.

The letter handed to Teresinski, Stacker and others Wednesday morning reversed the county's previous position, slightly. It said the county would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday morning, barring any court order otherwise.

"The lack of information we're getting from the state, we decided we don't want to make people wait any longer,” said Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer at the time. “But we do realize there is a federal court case pending."

Some same-sex couples saw the letter as a county stall tactic.

"It means that they would not have to do any sort of commitment action that could be looked at in an adverse light," said Bob Archer. Archer spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday morning asking for a marriage license application for him and his partner of 21 years.

Every time, he was denied – until a short time later.

"We do see that the state of Wisconsin is accepting the marriage licenses in Madison,” Ertmer announced to a crowd of about 50 people standing outside her office. “We feel it's only fair to all of you who have been so patient and kind and understand that we are going to start issuing them, okay?”

Ertmer says she and the county’s lawyer decided to change the county’s position, again, and issue licenses only after news outlets in the state reported the Wisconsin Vital Records office was processing them.

Majority of state issuing licenses

Questions were raised as to the legality of the hundreds of marriages that have taken place since last Friday. The Associated Press is reporting 483 licenses had been issued as of mid-day Wednesday; with the majority of them – about 370 – coming from Dane and Milwaukee Counties.

The questions were cleared up when Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen instructed the vital records office to process the licenses. It was holding on to them before Wednesday.

Winnebago County now joins the list of counties across much of the state that are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Of the state’s 72 counties, 52 are now issuing licenses, including new counties like Kewaunee and Winnebago.

Winnebago County is waiving the standard five-day license waiting period for couples who ask. Ertmer says 10 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples by the end of the day Wednesday.

As for the county's information requests to the state?

"I never got any information from them," said Ertmer.

A spokeswoman for the state vital records office tells FOX 11 it is not telling counties what to do, until the courts to come to a decision.