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Janesville women record Rock County's first same-sex marriage Monday

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Andrea Anderson
June 9, 2014

JANESVILLE—Two Janesville women were the first same-sex couple married in Rock County on Monday morning outside the courthouse.

Amanda Suckow and Jennifer Wagner held hands and smiled as Matthew Mills, a minister with Universal Life Church, told them they were partaking in “one of life's greatest accomplishments.”

Moments later, they chuckled about forgetting their rings at home in the rush to get married. Then each said, “I do,” Wagner mouthed “I love you,” and the two shared their first kiss as a legally wed couple.

“I think it was important to do it today to stand out and show other people not to be scared, and that it's OK,” Wagner said.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban. Crabb's ruling struck down an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2006.

Crabb on Monday afternoon rejected a request from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to block the decision for now. But Van Hollen also filed a petition Monday for a stay with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

'WE CAN GET MARRIED!'

Suckow and Wagner were watching Netflix on Friday when Suckow's cousin called and told them they could get married.

Suckow said Wagner ran around the house screaming, “We can get married!” and calling as many people as possible.

On Monday morning, Wagner saw online that Rock County was issuing marriage licenses. She rushed into the bedroom and woke Suckow. They scrambled to the courthouse before Crabb's ruling could be put on hold.

“I've always loved history, but I've never been a part of it,” Suckow said after marrying Wagner. “I didn't honestly think I was going to see it anytime soon,” Suckow added later. “So when it came out she struck it down, I said, 'Yes!'”

The two have dated for three years. They've contemplated marriage since February and applied for a domestic partnership Friday. When they heard of Crabb's ruling, they went back to the courthouse and cancelled it.

Since 2009, 45 domestic partnerships are filed in Rock County, Lori Stottler, Rock County clerk, said.

SUPPORTERS

Ed Timmer, Janesville, was outside the county clerk's office Monday morning.

At 7:45 a.m., he had a dozen roses in hand. He planned to give roses to anybody getting married Monday.

“It's a celebration, and I want to let people know there are people in this community that are behind them,” Timmer said.

He was watching TV when he heard the news Friday evening.

“I was happy,” Timmer said. “My feeling was that it was too long in coming. It should have happened a long time ago.”

His fiancé, Barbara Fett, was there, too. The two wore bright yellow T-shirts that read “Standing on the side of love.” They are members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Rock County.

The two said they wanted to be there together to support the couples and Crabb's ruling and to show love has no boundaries.

“I think it's wonderful,” Fett said. “I think love has to triumph over fear and hate and intolerance. It has to triumph. What sort of world do we want to live in if we don't honor love?”

MAKING HISTORY

Anissa Welch, Milton, took the first hour off from work in the hopes of watching a couple or two exchange vows.

Welch watched Suckow and Wagner get married.

“I love it. It's so exciting,” Welch said. “I'm on the Milton City Council, and being an elected official you're always making history whether you like it or not. It is fabulous to be a part of this.”

“What a Monday,” Welch later exclaimed.

Mills said tears were in his eyes as he officiated at Suckow and Wagner's wedding.

“It's about time,” Mills said of Friday's ruling.

Stottler said she will support same-sex couples.

“I strongly believe that people in love should be able to express that love in a legal relationship.” Stottler said. “I've been married 27 years to my high school sweetheart, and I honestly don't think the couple that just got married here is diluting my institution and my relationship one iota.”

COUNTY DIFFERENCES

Crabb's Friday decision was different from others around the country. While she ruled Wisconsin's ban against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, she did not issue an order instructing county and state officials on what to do about it, leaving county clerks to decide that issue for themselves for the time being.

Stottler decided over the weekend to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Between Crabb's ruling and the wording of state statutes, Stottler said she cannot legally deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She said she is “acting on the best of my ability based on the fact that state statutes dictate my office.”

On Friday, Milwaukee and Dane Counties immediately issued licenses following the federal ruling.

Stottler spoke with other county clerks and consulted Crabb's 88-page ruling over the weekend before making her decision.

“I'm more afraid of not issuing a license at this point and denying couples than I am of issuing and having a judge overturn it later.”

Over the weekend, Stottler was not able to receive advice or clarification from the state Department of Health Services on how to proceed with same-sex marriage licenses.

She had reached out May 29 to a state office asking how to handle it if the court overturn the same-sex marriage ban. She said she was told she would be given assistance. As of 8 a.m. Monday, she wasn't given any guidance, she said.

An email sent from the state Department of Health Services at 7:23 a.m. said the department didn't “have anything concrete” to tell Stottler and is “waiting from instructions from the attorney general's office and our legal counsel.”

Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey received a similar response when she asked for guidance from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office, which manages marriage records. The state Department of Health Services oversees the records office.

Bushey said county clerks are being put in uncomfortable spots. 

"It puts all of the county clerks in a very difficult situation," Bushey said.

"I think its sort of a moving target right now, and we need some additional information," Bushey later added.

Bushey decided to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until she received notification from the county lawyer on what is the "correct legal action," additional information from the state and a decision in 1 p.m. federal court hearing.

Two people, one via email and the other by phone, spoke with Bushey about marriage licenses Monday. Another couple stopped by in-person, Bushey said. 

When Stottler's office closed Monday afternoon, it had issued eight marriage licenses to same sex couples, fewer than in Dane or Milwaukee Counties. Rock County's population “is a little bit different,” Stottler said, and she suspects people may be waiting for the initial hype to simmer.

Rock County couples intent on marrying were informed of the political events and Van Hollen's intentions, Stottler said.



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