Before we let our memories of the moment fade into the back of our minds, let’s recall the happy moments of Friday, June 26, 2015 with some front page images from Newseum.org:
Of course, June 26 was the day the United States Supreme Court ruled that the right to marry the person you love cannot be denied on the basis of gender. And lest we forget, these were the magic words that codified that right into history:
But this was actually old news for us, believe it or not. So, with Madison holding LGBT pride festivities this coming weekend (something I so eagerly clued you in on earlier this week [uh… surprise?]), I want to dedicate this post to the moment 14 months ago when marriage equality came to the Badger State…
Once upon a time, people who thought marriage should be nothing but a one-man-wedded-to-one-woman thing started raising a ruckus and promoted legislation in the Wisconsin Legislature that endorsed traditional marriage. That was in 1997, but it didn’t get too far. Another bill, which banned same-sex marriage outright passed both houses of the Legislature 6 years later, but they couldn’t override the veto pen our then-Governor applied to the bill.
Then someone thought, hey, let’s make traditional marriage really bedrock and enshrine it into the state’s constitution. Now, the deal about Wisconsin’s constitution is that it takes a long time to amend it: An amendment has to pass with a majority of both houses of Wisconsin’s legislature not only once in a biennial session, but again in the following session (after a general election repopulates the legislature). Then, it goes to the voters of the state, who must approve it by majority vote in order for the amendment to be made part of our constitution.
So, what happened was that the amendment to enforce traditional marriage in Wisconsin (and to not recognize anything similar to it) passed both houses in March 2004, and again in the winter of 2005-2006 (along party lines). Then the amendment went to the voters in the November 2006 general election, when it was approved by a 59%-41% margin.
Despite the amendment’s approval, it would be challenged a couple of times, including at the state level. The case that eventually overturned it was Wolf. v. Walker, which was filed in federal court and heard and decided by District Judge Barbara Crabb. On Friday, June 6, 2014, Judge Crabb ruled that the constitutional ban interfered with the right to marry and, when the equal protection clause was applied, discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation.
The ruling came late in the day on the 6th, so that meant a big rush to the courthouses. Well, the courthouses in Milwaukee and Dane counties anyway. (Those are the two most populous counties in Wisconsin, and their courthouses stayed open late Friday and into Saturday at their own volition.) Yeah, we know it’s Friday, the thought went, but we need to do it now lest some other judge step in and stop all this.
Even those not getting married — like me, of course — just wanted to witness the momentous occasion. And it indeed felt like a momentous occasion at the City/County Building in Downtown Madison. And, yes, I did have my phone’s camera and Twitter app at the ready.
I lingered around the City/County Building between roughly 6 and 7:30PM that Friday evening. Yeah, you could say I crashed the weddings, but it did feel like such a tremendous party atmosphere. Cakes, flowers, honking horns, the whole nine yards. Oh, yeah, and witnesses, too, for witnesses must be present in order for the marriage to be legal.
I stopped by again the next afternoon, a Saturday. Was it still a happy atmosphere? Well, it was quieter and not as festive as it was the night before, but there were still happy people there getting married to the one they love.
My favorite couple that wed that Saturday afternoon were two women surrounded by their kids, one of whom really had fun. That or he was really restless. My money was on the fun part.
Though the crowds died down that Saturday, the great feelings still remained, as evidenced by a couple of signs some stores on State Street displayed.
By Monday, clerks several other counties across Wisconsin began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, even despite threats from the state Attorney General of possible county-level legal action against them, as well as the usual hand-wringing and self-righteousness from conservatives and religious figures.
The mad dash to the courthouses actually lasted for about a week, however, when Judge Crabb agreed to stay her decision; that meant that the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was halted, and the marriages that did take place were in sort of a limbo during the appeal process. The appeals process would continue during the rest of the summer and last into the fall. In July, a circuit appeals court that covers Wisconsin and a few other states upheld Judge Crabb’s district-level decision unanimously. The Wisconsin Attorney General would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, who declined that October to hear the appeal — meaning that the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples could resume. Even our dork of a governor had no choice but to acquiesce to legal and moral reality.
Of course, the Supremes’ decision last June finally put an end to the legal issues over and the legal bans against same-sex marriages across the country. But the feel-good moment we experienced in Wisconsin that day in June 2014 when love and equality won was just a warm-up for the feel-good, nationwide moment one year later. That earlier moment wasn’t any less significant nor any less euphoric. It was the day that love won in the Badger State, and it has had a lasting feeling.