APPLETON – Outagamie County officials are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, after a federal judge ruled the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional. But the county clerk is not issuing the licenses until the standard five-day waiting period is complete – in most cases.
But that wasn’t the story for the first part of the morning.
Couples and same-sex marriage supporters began arriving at the Outagamie County Administration Building at about 6:00 a.m. Monday, hoping to take advantage of what some expect to be a small window of opportunity where the state’s ban on gay marriage is lifted.
But shortly they filed into Outagamie County Clerk Lori O’Bright’s tiny, first floor office, O’Bright broke the news that she would not be filing any same-sex marriage license applications.
“If there are any opposite sex couples (present), those will be issued,” said O’Bright at the time. She said she needed to hear from the state.
[caption id="attachment_39626" align="alignright" width="300"] A rainbow flag is unfurled at the Outagamie County Administration Building June 9, 2014, as same-sex couples are allowed to begin filing paperwork for marriages. (WLUK/Bill Miston)[/caption]
"I can't get married and that my mom is dying and she won't see me get married,” said Natalie Starr through sobs, as tears streamed down her face. “She wants me to be happy and she wants me to be married to my partner.
Some couples waiting in the lobby of Outagamie’s administration building couldn’t wait around for the word from O’Bright – be it to their benefit, or against it. They had to go to work.
"Today was supposed to mean a lot to us," said Sam Toussel, alongside her partner Sara Rabideau, and their two children.
However, the county’s corporation counsel, Joseph Guidote, stepped in. After reading U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s Friday ruling, Guidote said the county could not bar same-sex couples from seeking marriage licenses and advised O’Bright to start.
At least eight same-sex couples ended up filing licenses with the clerk.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled Friday the state's 2006 ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. She is delaying acting on Wisconsin attorney general J.B. Van Hollen's request to stop gay marriages. Van Hollen has also filed a petition with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, asking it for a stay.
O'Bright says the office will continue to take applications from same-sex couples; unless a court orders otherwise.
"I think she's under a lot of stress,” said Ligia Rivera of O’Bright. “So I have compassion for her as well."
Rivera, 55, and her partner Miriam Douglass, 76, were one of the first couples to emerge from O’Bright’s office after the same-sex filings started.
"Wonderful,” said Douglass. "We've waited long enough.”
“Wonderful, it's one of the happiest days,” said Rivera.
With the Grand Chute couple’s license filed, they – and others – will have to wait the standard five-day waiting period. Something the couple says they'll gladly do.
"This is a ritual of society to be accepted, as well,” said Rivera. “So, it means something."
But for the Starrs – the wait is over.
"Very very happy,” said Natalie, on the courthouse steps Monday afternoon, clutching a freshly signed marriage license. “Can't wait to go home and see my mom and just say it was a nice day. It finally happened."
Starr and her wife, Heather, were married on the courthouse steps, moments after O’Bright signed off on their waiver request. A fete the two weren't expecting to celebrate.
"Catastrophic illness for either the couple themselves or immediate family members," said O’Bright of one of the mitigating circumstances that allow couples to circumvent the waiting period.
But O’Bright says, overall, the wait serves a purpose.
"I think it's important for people to consider their actions, because a marriage is definitely different now, than a domestic partnership," said O’Bright.
And for at least one couple – it definitely is.