On June 6, 2014, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb found that the Wisconsin Constitutional Amendment prohibiting same sex marriage is unconstitutional under the US Constitution. The question then arose: Did Wisconsin join the sixteen other states in the US legalizing gay marriage? The answer to that question is now unclear.
Immediately following Judge Crabb’s decision, many same sex couples in some Wisconsin counties flooded the courthouse, obtained marriage licenses and married. The status of those marriages are now in question based on the subsequent court decisions that followed.
One week after Judge Crabb’s initial decision was made, however, while she affirmed her ruling, she stayed the decision pending appeals. This means that the judge essentially put her order regarding the unconstitutionality of the Wisconsin prohibition on same sex marriages “on hold” while the party who does not agree with the order appeals to the higher court.
The political and personal controversy has sparked interest in many Wisconsin residents, however, it is the legal effects of this decision that has piqued the interest of family lawyers around the state.
Statistics say that over 550 same-sex Wisconsin couples wed during the week that the same-sex marriage ban was lifted and not yet “put on hold” by the Judge who made the ruling. Now that the order is stayed, many are concerned about the legal limbo regarding the status of these couples’ marriages. The courts have yet to decide whether or not the marriages that occurred during that one week are, in fact, valid.
Some of the major issues that these couples will face while this appeal is pending is how to file state and federal income taxes, how to deal with pensions, if same-sex couples can provide for each other on their health insurance policies, can they adopt children together and if they are able to file for divorce or an annulment.
Without having a decision on whether their marriages are valid, these couples may be uncertain of their rights and obligations under the law. In turn, family law attorneys may also be uncertain on the best way to advise these parties when legal issues arise in any of these 550+ same-sex marriages, especially, if any of these couples decide to separate.
While it is exciting to see law-in-action, it may be stressful for the couples and families involved. Eventually, we will have a final decision to all of these questions. In the meantime, we all must wait to follow the law as it develops.