The unexpected ruling on Friday, June 6, declaring Wisconsin's laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman as unconstitutional left the Rev. Andrew Warner, pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Madison, Wis., in a bit of a predicament. Warner and his partner have two sons and on Friday afternoon had to scramble between picking them up and rushing to the Madison County Courthouse with their documentation to file for a marriage license.
In the end, it all worked out. Warner and his partner, Jay Edmundson, joined six other couples from his congregation, and legally tied the knot over the weekend. They later celebrated on Sunday, June 8, in front of friends and family at Plymouth Church.
It was a weekend of victory, tears of joy, and love.
"I long felt married to Jay — our church wedding really meant something," Warner said. "But now I feel both married and liberated. I know many people talk about the financial and legal importance of marriage, but for me the real effect came in terms of citizenship. Now I don't feel like a second-class citizen. I feel like I'm part of Wisconsin in a way I never felt before, despite 17 years living here."
So far, 42 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have issued licenses to same-sex couples, and the state's attorney general has already appealed the case to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her ruling, District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that Wisconsin's laws "prohibiting marriage between same-sex couples interfere with plaintiffs' right to marry, in violation of the due process clause, and discriminate against plaintiffs on the basis of sexual orientation, in violation of the (Constitution's) equal protection clause."
Warner said he and other LGBT advocates in the state had an idea the ruling would be in their favor when the attorney general, J.B. Van Hollan, asked Crabb for a stay on her decision two weeks ago before she even issued it.
"This gave most of us a clear indication of the likely result of the case and that it would soon be decided," Warner said. "A friend from the ACLU confirmed as much and asked my congregation to join in as a co-sponsor of the ACLU's Milwaukee celebration of the judgment whenever it came out. With expectation of a judgment, Jay and I worked to get our paperwork in order. Then every day we hoped. I thought the judgment would come out in the morning; the afternoon surprised me. And I had started to lose confidence it would come."
Finally, at about 3:45 p.m. on Friday, a friend at the ACLU contacted Warner and told him, "We won."
"At first we didn't think the county courthouse would go ahead with marriages so we planned to go to the ACLU celebration," Warner said. "We sorted out [carpool] plans for our kids and then heard the courthouse was open. We raced to the courthouse, arriving along with church members Matt Schreck and Fernando Gutierrez — the first same-sex couple in the state to marry, and Jay and I are No. 2."
Together since 1996, Warner and Edmundson married 14 years earlier in the church, and because of that they decided to legally wed in the county courthouse after the ruling was announced. As Edmundson hurried off after the vows to pick up their children, Warner remained in the courthouse, performing a wedding for another church couple and greeting friends. Two other couples from Plymouth UCC were married, and Warner said most of the couples had already had a wedding service in the church. Three of the six Plymouth couples have children.
On Sunday, gathered together inside Plymouth for worship and wearing red for Pentecost, the newly-married couples came forward, raised their hands as Chair of Deacons Ed Krishok offered a prayer on behalf of the congregation. Afterward, members enjoyed several of the cakes brought for coffee hour to share in celebration.
"One of the couples told me after the blessing, 'I didn't know I could cry so much for joy,'" Warner said.
"I realized in that moment how much my ability to marry meant to my straight friends, too," Warner added. "I knew I would cry, but their tears surprised me. But they were joyous too. I heard that same joy in the voice of the judge who married us — he choked up as he said, 'I now pronounce you married under the laws of the state of Wisconsin.' And I saw it in the eager smiles of the county clerks. I've thought about this a number of times in the days since."
Wisconsin becomes the 20th state, along with the District of Columbia, to permit marriage equality to all citizens. The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of marriage equality in two cases a year ago in June 2013, and since then every single ruling on a state's marriage laws that deny LGBT couples the same rights as heterosexual couples has found them to be unconstitutional.
A groundswell of federal and state lawsuits could inflate that number as judges in 10 states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee) ruled that either all or part of those states' same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. There is a lawsuit in every state in the U.S. that does not permit same-sex marriage.
"Personally it felt overwhelming, momentous, and deeply joyful to become legally married," Warner said. "I know there are plenty of legal twists and turns ahead. But honestly, one scripture kept going through my head: 'We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.'"