Wisconsin’s attorney general today warned that county clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples could face criminal charges for doing so, and asserted that same-sex marriages that have taken place in the state this past week are not legally valid.
J.B. Van Hollen’s remarks came as a reported 63 of the state’s 72 counties were issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples, in light of a federal judge’s decision last Friday striking down the state’s anti-marriage equality laws. Judge Barbara Crabb has rejected Van Hollen’s request for an emergency stay of the ruling and said that what county clerks do is an issue for state courts, although she agreed to hold a hearing tomorrow to consider issuing an order on how public officials should carry out her ruling. Van Hollen has appealed Crabb's ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and asked that court for a stay as well.
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today, Van Hollen said some people in the state are “basically taking the law into their own hands and there can be legal repercussions for that.” He continued, “Depending on who believes they’re married under the law and who doesn’t believe they’re married under the law may cause them to get themselves in some legal problems that I think are going to take years for them and the courts to work out.”
He said he did not believe the couples will be prosecuted, but county clerks may be. “That’s going to be up to district attorneys, not me,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “There are penalties within our marriage code, within our statutes, and hopefully they’re acting with full awareness of what’s contained therein.”
In Dane County, considered the state’s most liberal, County Clerk Scott McDonell scoffed at Van Hollen’s warnings of prosecution, saying the possibility “doesn’t keep me up at night,” the paper reports. He added that Van Hollen “needs to call off the dogs and turn off the fire hoses.” Dane County, which includes Madison — the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin’s main campus — was the first in the state to issue licenses to same-sex couples.