Couples cheered federal judge’s decision only to discover Ozaukee clerk won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses
What Patricia Wakefield had hoped would be the happiest day of her life quickly turned into one of the saddest days on Monday.
That’s when the 62-year-old Port Washington woman and her partner of 30 years, Kate Pelzer, went to the Ozaukee County Clerk’s office to get a marriage license.
Their hopes, however, were dashed when the Ozaukee County Clerk’s office would not issue a license to them. Instead, Wakefield said, they were read a statement that the county was not going to issue same-sex marriage licenses until receiving further direction from the state.
“It was just kind of heartbreaking,” Wakefield said. “It went from potentially being one of the happiest days of our lives to being one of the worst.
“I spent the whole weekend working on it only for us to have our hopes dashed and our civil rights denied. Here we are, because we’re taxpayers in Ozaukee County, being denied the same financial and legal rights as people in other counties. It makes me wish I had chosen to live in another county, even though I love this community.
“This truly is a sad day.”
About two-thirds of the counties in Wisconsin are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb’s decision Friday that the state’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional.
Dozens of couples were married in Milwaukee and Dane counties, where the traditional waiting period was also waived, over the weekend.
But Ozaukee County, like roughly a dozen other counties in the state, is not issuing same-sex marriage licenses. County Clerk Julie Winkelhorst on Tuesday said, “Upon conferring with counsel, at this time no marriage licenses for same-sex marriages will be issued by Ozaukee County until further direction is received from the state.”
Winkelhorst refused any other comment, although she acknowledged her department has received a couple of calls from same-sex couples inquiring about getting licenses and turning away one couple.
Corporation Counsel Rhonda Gorden said the problem is that, while Crabb ruled the prohibition on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, she did not issue an order to county clerks telling them how to proceed.
“There is no order directing county clerks what they are to do as a result,” Gorden said. “As soon as that is issued, the clerk will follow it.
“We’re just waiting for that. The county clerk wants to make sure that if they issue a license, it’s valid.”
That decision changed things for same-sex couples who live in Ozaukee County, who must receive a marriage license from Ozaukee County to get married in Wisconsin.
That’s something Dawn Kittson and her partner Mickey Jones found out after filling out the paperwork for a marriage license Saturday in Milwaukee County.
“We filled out all the paperwork and they looked at it and said, ‘Oh, you’re from Ozaukee County,’” said the 48-year-old Grafton woman said. “We were very disappointed.”
They were even more disappointed to discover Ozaukee County wasn’t issuing licenses, Kittson said.
“It’s very frustrating. All we want to do is get married,” she said. “It’s our life. Let us live it like we want. I can’t help who I fell in love with.
“I’m a taxpayer. I want my rights.”
She and her partner have been together for five years and engaged for three years, Kittson said.
“We were going to do a domestic partnership, but it’s not the same. We want to get married,” she said.
She wants to marry before she turns 50, so she and Jones were planning a wedding in Illinois next May until word came out late Friday of Crabb’s decision.
“I was thrilled. I was like, ‘Oh my God, we can get married now.’” Kittson said, noting about 20 of her friends quickly texted her with the news.
The news came as a shock, too, to Wakefield and Pelzer, who have lived in Port for 22 years.
“We expected this would pretty much never happen in our lifetime,” Wakefield said.
“The reality is we’ve been together for 30 years, through some very good times and very bad times. We’re very community-minded people. We’re just like any other people. We’re middle-class homeowners, tax-paying people who live our lives like anyone else.
“But this is ultimately something that affects our civil rights, our legal options in terms of Social Security, health care and estate planning. It has huge implications.”
For example, Wakefield said, if she or Pelzer died, their estate will have to go through probate instead of automatically passing to the other as it does with other married couples.
Their attorney told them that even if they married in another state, they would still have to file separate income tax returns in Wisconsin, although they could file their federal return as a married couple.
“If the U.S. Constitution feels we’re afforded these rights and Ozaukee County is willing to violate our human rights, it’s just not acceptable,” Wakefield said.
Although she said she’s not a particularly public person, Wakefield said, she felt compelled to speak out.
“This is something I can’t be quiet about,” she said. “I don’t feel my rights being violated is someone else’s decision to make.
“I’m 62 years old. My fear is this window will close. All those folks in other counties will have had the chance to get married and here we sit, as residents of Ozaukee County, denied our opportunity.”
Image information: STANDING OUTSIDE the Ozaukee County Administration Center were Patricia Wakefield (left) and her partner Kate Pelzer, who tried to apply for a marriage license on Monday but were turned away by county officials. Photo by Bill Schanen IV