First same-sex marriage for county

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Margaret Plevak | June 12, 2014

DELAVAN—For Dea Fowler and Jan Barnard, the journey ended—and began—in a sun-dappled garden  wet with last night's rain, in the back of the United Church of Christ-Congregational in Delavan.

Fowler and Barnard, both residents of the town of East Troy, picked up their wedding license at the Walworth County Government Center in Elkhorn shortly after 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 12—the first same-sex marriage license issued by Walworth County Clerk Kim Bushey on the first day her office began issuing the licenses.

On June 6, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb struck down a state ban on same-sex- couple marriages. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is appealing the decision, and he asked both Crabb and a federal appeals court to put the decision on hold while the appeal progresses.

Crabb plans to hold a hearing Friday, June 13, at 1 p.m. to hear arguments.

While Crabb declared the ban unconstitutional, she didn't offer direction to state officials on what to do, leaving many county clerks searching for guidance from state and county officials. As of early June 12, clerks in 52 of Wisconsin's 72 counties were issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Bushey requested guidance from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office and the state Attorney General's Office. She said she didn't want to be punitive to county residents when so many surrounding counties were allowing the licenses to be issued.

Fowler and Barnard said they weren't concerned by the appeal, and any delays. 

“It's just a matter of time,” Barnard said. “The ban is unconstitutional.” 

Fowler and Barnard, who thought  Walworth County would have begun issuing the licenses on Monday, had gotten their necessary paperwork together well ahead of time.

Fowler, a library technician specialist for a school district, and Barnard, a quality assurance manager for a steel company, have been together 15 years. The two met online.

The two women have had to file federal and state taxes separately, and are used to additional paperwork involving everything from Social Security to health insurance forms.

“The license should mean a little less paperwork and a lot more convenience,” said Fowler, who clutched a quarter-inch thick folder of papers as she stood outside the county clerk's office.  

“We have supportive family and friends,” Barnard said. “But not everyone is that lucky.”

After getting their license, the couple hurried off to the Walworth County Judicial Center to meet with a court commissioner who performs marriage ceremonies, but the commissioner's clerk indicated his schedule was full that day.

“Looks like it's time for plan B,” Barnard said.

 Fowler, who had a list of alternative sites, made a couple of calls in the hallway of the judicial center, and the two soon headed off to the United Church of Christ-Congregational in Delavan, where the Rev. Laura McLeod was happy to perform the ceremony.

After reviewing the license in her office, McLeod and two church staff members who served as witnesses, headed outside to the backyard garden of the brick-faced church, which dates back to 1841.

In a rainbow-colored stole and a white robe, McLeod had the women face each other while she celebrated the ceremony, and the two exchanged vows and rings. 

“You,” McLeod said, “are married.”

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