MILWAUKEE (AP) — Dozens of gay couples married Saturday at courthouses in Milwaukee and Madison, taking advantage of what most believed would be a small window in which to get hitched before a judge's decision overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban was put on hold.
The decision was announced Friday afternoon just as the party was getting started at PrideFest, an annual gay celebration that draws thousands of people to Milwaukee's festival grounds on Lake Michigan.
Many couples who married Saturday said the judge's decision had caught them by surprise, and they hadn't wanted to break Friday night plans. Others needed time to assemble the documents required for a marriage license. Couples began lining up outside the Milwaukee County courthouse at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened.
Craig Cook and Marshall Draper arrived about 8:30 a.m. and found nearly two dozen couples in line ahead of them. Cook, 43, said he and others had hoped U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb would make a decision in time for PrideFest. He and Draper attended the festival Friday night and planned to return Saturday after being married by a Unitarian minister outside the courthouse.
"Had this been legal, we probably would have done this 20 years ago," Cook said. He said he and Draper likely will have a reception in a few weeks, but "this was as formal a wedding as I've ever wanted."
Gay rights activists have won 15 consecutive lower court cases since a landmark Supreme Court ruling last summer, but in states such as Arkansas, couples had only a few days in which to marry before judges' decisions were appealed.
Abby Collier said she planned to marry her partner, Beth Collier, several years ago in her native California, but ceremonies were halted the day before. She was surprised Friday by the sense of urgency that experience gave her.
"My initial reaction was, 'We have to get down there. We have to do this right away,'" Abby Collier said while volunteering at PrideFest on Saturday.
The couple, who are in their 30s, already had a domestic partnership, wills and medical powers of attorney to care for themselves and their children, but Collier said marriage gave her greater peace of mind.
"I told myself it didn't matter, and I really believed it didn't matter. I wear a ring, everyone knows we're a couple," she said. "But it does matter."
Voters amended the Wisconsin Constitution in 2006 to outlaw gay marriage or anything substantially similar. Crabb, the federal judge, declared the ban unconstitutional in a lawsuit the ACLU had filed on behalf of eight gay couples.
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