Legal Status of Gay Marriages Could Lead to Lawsuits, High Court - WBAY

Legal Status of Gay Marriages Could Lead to Lawsuits, High Court Action

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For the hundreds of same-sex couples who received marriages licenses and were married last week, their legal status is now uncertain after U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb stayed her ruling, halting gay marriages through appeals.

Crabb reaffirmed her ruling Friday that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional but immediately stayed that decision.

"We don't know if we're recognized at the federal level," Bob Archer said, who received a license last week in Winnebago County. "A lot of legal counsel has said we are. The state is insisting that we are not."

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Justice said, "The validity of the same-sex marriages that have taken place is uncertain. The licenses were issue without any legal authority. Having been recorded by vital records doesn't affect the validity of the marriages."

Legal experts predict a potential scenario, at least short-term, where Wisconsin couples could be recognized at the federal level, but not the state.

That's happening in Utah, where more than 1,000 same-sex couples were married before a stay was issued in that case. The couples have since sued to be legally recognized.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal government will recognize gay marriages in Utah.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department Monday would only say it "continues to monitor the developments in Wisconsin."

"I think Wisconsin couples could institute a similar action in Wisconsin if they wanted to," Carl Tobias said, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, who tracks gay marriages nationwide. "It might be preferable to have another judge looking at that issue."

The prospect could lead to more lawsuits and more actions the state would defend.

"There are layers here," Charley Jacobs said, a political science professor at St. Norbert College, who studies the courts. "This is what federalism creates. When you have states with their own sovereign ability to write laws and they have their own constitutions, and the federal government as well, you get this kind of confusion from time to time.

"It's why you have a Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is sort of the ultimate referee and they get to tell us what exactly we should know about the law."

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