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Area residents response to same-sex marriage ruling

The Rev. Suzelle Lynch of Unitarian Universalist Church West officiates the wedding ceremony of Vicki and Kandice Banville at the Waukesha County Courthouse on Monday.

The Rev. Suzelle Lynch of Unitarian Universalist Church West officiates the wedding ceremony of Vicki and Kandice Banville at the Waukesha County Courthouse on Monday.

June 10, 2014

Although the Rev. Suzelle Lynch officiated 10 same-sex marriages on Saturday, June 7, they weren't her first.

"(Saturday) wasn't my first same-sex wedding," said Lynch, of Unitarian Universalist Church West in Brookfield. "It was just the first 'legal' one."

When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the state's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional Friday, June 6, Lynch and her congregation celebrated.

Lynch normally would have been preparing for her Sunday service, but instead she spent her Saturday at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

"It just felt like the courthouse was the place to be," Lynch said. "To be able to stand there and say to the two men that they were now legally married was an electric moment."

Lynch and her colleague, the Rev. Lori Hlaben, officiated another five weddings at the Waukesha County Courthouse, which is closed weekends, Monday.

The Milwaukee County Courthouse reported 146 couples applied for a marriage license over the weekend, which coincided with PrideFest at the Summerfest grounds. The festival counted a record-breaking 31,295 visitors June 6 through 8.

"It's just been an exhilarating weekend," said Colleen Carpenter, executive director of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, which participates in PrideFest every year. "To have the judge's initial ruling on the first day of PrideFest felt like a faithful message of hope and affection from the universe. The atmosphere of PrideFest was just giddiness."

Area churches respond

UUCW is a long-standing supporter of the LGBT community, Lynch said.

"Unitarian Universalism has been on the path to being open and affirming of (LGBT) since the 1970s," Lynch said. "My particular congregation went through and voted to be open and accepting, officially, in 2004."

Lynch noted that many of the couples whose ceremonies she has officiated in the last week had already pledged themselves to one another.

"I first married two women back when I was a young clergywoman," she said. "This wasn't anybody's last-minute decision. Many of them had already had a non-legal ceremony and wore rings already."

At Unitarian Church North in Mequon, the Rev. Julie Forest has offered to officiate gay and lesbian weddings.

"I believe it's a basic human right to be able to engage in a marriage and have a family," Forest said. "There are a lot of same-sex couples with children, and I think that this honors their children as well."

Although she hasn't officiated any same-sex weddings yet, she hopes people within and outside her congregation will take her up on her offer.

"I hope we have this church filled with people who want to marry," Forest said. "Our denomination has been standing on the side of love for a long time. This thing that's kind of tearing apart some of the mainline denominations is something we worked out over 30 years ago."

While some churches have welcomed gay marriage into their services, others have upheld the belief that same-sex marriage continues to be against biblical teaching.

"The church's stance is very clear. Marriage is between a man and a woman," said the Rev. Jeff Prasser of St. Aloysius Church in West Allis.

The church doesn't allow same-sex marriages, and he doesn't expect that to change, Prasser said.

At the same time, he said, "Pope Francis says we don't judge people's private lives."

The Rev. Susan Lockman, pastor of First United Methodist Church in West Allis, said that although the official stance of the church is in opposition to same-sex marriage, there appears to be some internal debate.

"The current stand of the United Methodist Church is that clergy are not allowed to officiate same-gender weddings," Lockman said. "But we're not all of one mind in agreement. We're pretty divided on that."

Planning for the future

Maggie Bultman, a financial services professional from Brookfield, and her partner of six years are already thinking about marriage after Friday's ruling.

"I kind of did a double-take," Bultman said. "I didn't think it was going to happen this quickly. I honestly used to think that Wisconsin would be the last state to do this."

One of Bultman's primary objectives in her profession is to provide financial planning for same-sex couples who, she said, experience many hardships that heterosexual couples might not.

"From a planning standpoint, it just takes more time, and there's a lot more thought that has to go into every detail." She said. "For example, things that heterosexual couples might take for granted, like that their property gets passed on, takes a lot more planning."

Bultman also noted that same-sex couples are sometimes afraid to seek financial planning help with full disclosure.

"A lot have to go through not knowing that there's anybody that they can trust with that kind of private information in order to help them," Bultman said. "I hope that now this opens people up to more basic planning and have it not be such a burden to do financial planning."

The road ahead

Despite the rush for marriage applications, gay couples and their allies know there are more fights ahead.

Soon after Crabb's ruling Friday, state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed the decision and asked the appeals court to put a hold on Crabb's decision. A federal judge denied his request for the hold Monday, allowing gay marriages to continue at courthouses throughout the state, but LGBT representatives are prepared to face opposition further down the line.

Carpenter said the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center considers the ruling a stepping stone toward equality, but knows the fight isn't over.

"I think it's important to savor these victories, but we also have to keep our eyes on the end-game: legal equality," Carpenter said. "I think we still have a lot of work to do."

Donna Frake and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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