Shankland says county must lead on gay marriage

By Sari Lesk, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

STEVENS POINT Same-sex couples in Portage County cannot apply for marriage licenses despite a Monday Supreme Court announcement that it will not hear Wisconsin's appeal of rulings that found the state's ban unconstitutional.

Staff in County Clerk Shirley Simonis' office said the county's corporation counsel is researching the Supreme Court's decision before advising the clerk's office on the matter. They also said the county does not yet have forms that are specific to same-sex couples; their licenses now refer only to a "bride" and "groom."

The county's actions are similar to those taken in June when U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb first ruled the ban unconstitutional without issuing an order. Portage County was one of only a few counties in the state not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, leading to a protest at the county's courthouse in June.

Other central Wisconsin counties Monday were issuing licenses. Although forms from the Office of Vital Records that are worded for same-sex couples are not yet available, other counties were using current forms to issue licenses. Marathon County, for example, is listing couples' names alphabetically on the form under "bride" and "groom" unless applicants ask for names to be listed differently.

Marathon County clerk staff said Monday that the office used the same practice in June and ran into no problems at the time.

Also on Monday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen conceded that his fight to preserve the ban was over.

"I encourage everyone to respect the court's action and to administer the law fairly and impartially," Van Hollen said today in a statement. "Once the district court formally lifts the stay, officials must apply the marriage law consistent with the district court's order and the Seventh Circuit's decision."

The ruling requires equal treatment for same-sex and opposite-sex couples regarding applications for marriage licenses, as well as in determining the rights, protections, obligations and benefits of marriage.

State Rep. Katrina Shankland said she is looking for leadership from Portage County on the issue and hopes the county will begin issuing licenses as soon as possible.

"Marriage licenses belong to everyone who is in a loving, committed relationship," she said.

She said it would be unconstitutional at this time for any Wisconsin county to deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Allen Rasmussen, Jr., who is seeking a marriage license for his fiance, Keith Kitsembel, and himself, said he was disappointed to be turned down again by Portage County even though the Supreme Court denied an appeal on the case.

"The speech is out there by Van Hollen saying that it's OK for Wisconsin to marry now, and that hasn't hit home to Portage County," he said.

The high court also denied appeals requested by Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah.