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Portage County Clerk Simonis explains why no same sex marriages licenses were issued


STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) -- The same-sex marriage issue brought a week’s worth of confusion and controversy due to a federal judge’s ruling that Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. On June 6th, Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the ban, but said nothing else until Friday, June 13th when she placed an injunction barring Wisconsin from enforcing the ban. Crabb also granted a stay of her order, meaning the Wisconsin law remains in place until the appeals are exhausted.

The week of uncertainty forced county officials to do their best to interpret Crabb’s ruling without direction. Sixty of the state’s seventy-two county clerks issued around 670 same sex marriage licenses until the window of opportunity was closed.

During the week, Portage County Clerk Shirley Simonis had to decide what to do. She chose not to issue same sex marriage licenses based on the written law and legal opinions.  “I reviewed the statutes as far as county clerk statutory responsibility, and nowhere in the statutes has it indicated that my responsibility is to study a federal judge’s ruling and determine whether or not within that ruling, one, did a law change, and two, if it did change when does it go into effect?”

Corporation Counsel Michael McKenna reviewed what took place in Judge Crabb’s court, and advised Simonis against offering those licenses.  “He felt Judge Crabb’s ruling was declaratory. It did not finish and guide or instruct the county clerks to issue marriage licenses, and as of Monday morning, he indicated to me that his advice was that I should not be issuing (same sex) marriage licenses.”

Shirley Simonis says she supports gay marriage and personally would like to issue the licenses, but there are legal limits to what she can do.  I’m more than willing to issue marriage licenses, and want to to any residents within Portage County if it is within my legal realm of responsibility.”  She says, “People are looking at it that I’m not doing this because I don’t want to, and that’s not the issue. I would like to be able to issue them the licenses, and I’m more than willing to issue them the licenses once I’m sure that legally, I should be.”

Another issue that hasn’t been discussed much is the risk domestic partners took this past week by getting married in the counties that issued same sex marriage licenses.  If the Wisconsin ban were to be upheld in the courts, Simonis says same-sex couples could be at risk of having no marriage or domestic partnership registered.  “If someone is in a domestic partnership, has it registered, once they get married it automatically terminates the domestic partnership just by filing the marriage license and getting married.”

Simonis has been a public servant for over thirty years, and is a member of the Democratic party. Many of her party members supported issuing licenses this past week, including Representative Katrina Shankland, who joined protesters outside the courthouse urging Simonis to change her mind. Simonis stuck to her decision.   “I don’t want to do something in my capacity as an elected county clerk that there would be any doubt in anybody else’s mind that I’m not following the law, and I want to be able to issue everybody the licenses, but I want to make sure that I have the legal authority to do that.”

Simonis looks forward to having this issue resolved in the courts soon, so they can issue all couples the desired documents.

(Listen to our interview with Shirley Simonis on our website, here.)