U.S. appeals court rules same-sex marriage bans in Wisconsin, Indiana unconstitutional

CHICAGO (WITI/AP) — A U.S. appeals court in Chicago has ruled that same-sex marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana are unconstitutional.

Thursday's decision by a three-judge panel at the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals bumps the number of states where same-sex marriage will be legal from 19 to 21. The decision was unanimous.

The Wisconsin and Indiana cases shifted to Chicago after their attorneys general appealed separate lower court rulings in June tossing the bans. The 7th Circuit stayed those rulings pending its own decision.

When Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage was tossed in June, by Judge Barbara Crabb, more than 500 same-sex couples raced to courthouses across the state to get married.

When Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed the ruling, the weddings were halted -- with Judge Crabb issuing a "stay" on her ruling -- deciding to wait until all of the appeals are exhausted.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said this of the defense of Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban when making its decision Thursday: "The defense of the ban is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously," and "One wouldn't know reading Wisconsin's brief, that there is or ever has been discrimination against homosexuals anywhere in the United States."

Wisconsin and Indiana argued the prohibitions helped foster a centuries-old tradition.

Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban has been in place since 2006. The eight couples who initially sued the state to get the ban lifted say they're thrilled with Thursday's decision.

While the appeals court has agreed with the lower court ruling -- tossing the ban, a "stay" on the decision remains in place until all legal appeals have been heard. That's why Milwaukee County wasn't issuing same-sex marriage licenses on Thursday.

Attorney General Van Hollen has said he is planning on appealing Thursday's decision to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can either chose to hear the case and make a final decision, or decide not to hear the case -- and then, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands.

The bottom line: Same-sex marriage is legal in Wisconsin, but until the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the case, marriage licenses aren't being granted to same-sex couples.

"I think what all of us know is the question is now not if. It's when," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said Thursday.

"The advice of my legal counsel is that we cannot issue same-sex marriage licenses at this time because of what Judge Crabb said in her stay -- that her stay would be in affect pending any appeals.  We anticipate appeals obviously based on what the Attorney General has said, so we are going to have to wait for the outcome of the appeals -- but I said as soon as those legal hurdles are clear it's my intention to immediately begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses," Milwaukee County Clerk Joe Czarnezki said.

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin issued this statement on the ruling:

“Today’s decision is yet another affirmation that discrimination doesn’t just violate our Wisconsin values – it violates our Constitution and marriage equality will be the law of the land in our state. It is simply wrong for Governor Walker and Attorney General Van Hollen to continue to defend discrimination and with the unanimous rejection of their position by another federal court, it is long past time for them to stop standing in the way of freedom, fairness and equality for all Wisconsinites. Love is love, family is family, and discriminating against anyone’s love, against anyone’s family, is not only wrong, it is unconstitutional.  It is now time for us to keep our promise to pass on to the next generation a Wisconsin that is more equal, not less equal.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chris Larson issued this statement:

“Today, love wins once again in Wisconsin.  The 7th Circuit Court’s ruling paves the way for the freedom to marry in our state and bulldozes legally and morally unjust barriers to equality that Wisconsin Republicans callously continue to uphold. 

Everyone deserves the right to marry the person they love.  This is a basic freedom that should not be denied to anyone, as all of our neighbors and families should have the opportunity to live their lives freely and happily by having protections under our laws.

It’s now time for Wisconsin Republicans to stop wasting taxpayer money attacking thousands of loving couples in Wisconsin who just want to protect and provide for their families.  Especially after today’s ruling, no longer should our state promote inequality, foster discrimination, or unconstitutionally limit the rights and freedoms of our fellow Wisconsinites.”

Senator Mark Miller issued this statement:

“Today’s decision by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on marriage equality confirms what we already know to be just and right, all people are to be treated equally under the law. Love is love.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate issued this statement:

"Once again, love wins in Wisconsin. 

For too long, hateful sentiment against our gay brothers and lesbian sisters across the state has been codified in our state's Constitution. The 40-page decision written by a Republican-appointed member of the court, released today, reaffirms the right of every Wisconsin citizen to be recognized as full and equal citizens under the law and to marry the person they love.    

Scott Walker and J.B. Van Hollen have been on the wrong side of this issue, not even the court could find a valid or important interest of the state to continue discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

The time is now for Walker and Van Hollen to respect the rule of law and abandon any attempt to prevent Wisconsinites from marrying the person the love."

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued this statement:

“This is yet another historic step forward for marriage equality. For too long, loving couples have been told they cannot marry, this ruling moves us closer to true equality in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the United States."

Larry Dupuis, the legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin has issued this statement:

 "Today we join same sex couples, their families and our allies across the country in celebrating this victory. Every loving and committed couple in the U.S. should have the freedom to marry, protect their loved ones, and have their commitment honored by our legal system. We celebrate and tomorrow we continue the fight to make marriage equality the law of the land, not just in certain states."

Monitor FOX6 News and FOX6Now.com for updates on this developing story.

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