Two lower court rulings that said Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional will stand, immediately ending delays on marriages around the state.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it will not accept an appeal for the case. The court’s order — entered with no comment — lets a decision issued by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stand.
Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said Monday morning that his office will start issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately. No couples have come to obtain a license yet, he said.
“I don’t expect a mad rush because the supreme court has spoken,” Czarnezki said. “I think most people are confident that the ban on same-sex marriage is permanently unconstitutional.”
An email from the Dane County Clerk’s office sent Monday stated that the office would immediately start issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union, which litigated the case on behalf of eight couples, said she was “super excited” about the court’s decision. The organization will hold a news conference Monday afternoon, she said.
The Supreme Court, in its order, also rejected appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia. The court’s order immediately ends delays on marriage in those states as well.
Couples in six other states — Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming — should be able to get married in short order. Those states would be bound by the same appellate rulings that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review.
That would make same-sex marriage legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia.
Experts and advocates on both sides of the issue believed the justices would step in and decide gay marriage cases this term.
The justices have an obligation to settle an issue of such national importance, not abdicate that responsibility to lower court judges, the advocates said. Opting out of hearing the cases leaves those lower court rulings in place.
Czarneski said Monday that the state now needs to modify its forms and licenses, since they explicitly list the members of a couple applying for a license as a man and a woman.
But the justices have left unresolved for now the question of same-sex marriage nationwide.
Still, the court’s decision is expected to be seen as yet another victory for gay rights advocates. In June, Western District of Wisconsin Senior Judge Barbara Crabb first struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which was enacted via a constitutional amendment in 2006 ruling in June.
Then last month, the 7th Circuit upheld Crabb’s ruling and a similar ruling in Indiana, in a decision that questioned why cousins can marry in Wisconsin and Indiana but not same-sex couples. That ruling, authored by Judge Richard Posner, was also notable for being the first same-sex marriage ruling to solely focus on an equal protection argument, and not a due process argument.
Following Crabb’s ruling, county clerks clerks issued licenses for a week, but Crabb then stayed her order.
Two other appeals courts, in Cincinnati and San Francisco, could issue decisions any time in same-sex marriage cases. Judges in the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit who are weighing pro-gay marriage rulings in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, appeared more likely to rule in favor of state bans than did the 9th Circuit judges in San Francisco, who are considering Idaho and Nevada restrictions on marriage.
It takes just four of the nine justices to vote to hear a case, but it takes a majority of at least five for an eventual ruling. Monday’s opaque order did not indicate how the justices voted on whether to hear the appeals.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.