Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is advising the state Vital Records Office to process the marriage licenses county clerks have issued to same-sex couples in the days since U.S. District Barbara Crabb deemed the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.
The Republican attorney general is still asking the judge to put a stay on her ruling, but will not contest the licenses already handed out, a decision that was likely political as well as legal.
Now that clerks in 50 of the state’s 72 counties have issued marriage licenses to hundreds of gay couples, the prospect of taking licenses away from people previously told their marriages were in the books spells a public relations disaster. Even the clerk of Waukesha County, long considered the aorta of Republican politics in Wisconsin, is letting gay couples get hitched and sounded happy about it when she discussed the process with the Associated Press on Monday.
"We want to make sure they're cautioned to a certain degree that they may have some legal issues ahead of them, but we decided that, well, let's just say that we have a lot of happy people here," clerk Kathy Novack said, referring to the confusion over whether the state’s plan to appeal the initial court ruling could later invalidate their licenses.
Not all conservatives are happy that Novack, a Republican elected by some of the state’s most conservative voters, is taking part in what they view as a liberal redefinition of marriage.
A photo of Novack preceded an article by conservative website Media Trackers, which proclaimed that state clerks were “violating state law” by issuing the licenses.
“How those licenses will be treated in the future remains a legal uncertainty, but what is certain is that Wisconsin state law makes it a crime to issue a marriage license contrary to the conditions and definitions established in statute,” said the article, which was published before Van Hollen indicated he wouldn’t challenge the already-issued licenses.
Mark Belling, a Milwaukee talk radio host influential in the conservative movement also denounced Novack’s actions, reported Media Trackers.
Similarly, Kevin Binversie, an editor of RightWisconsin, called the rush by counties to grant licenses illegal, saying that clerks were ignoring laws that require licenses to be granted at least five days before a wedding is performed.
Nevertheless, Van Hollen has apparently decided this is not a good fight for his office or his party to fight.