Whitefish Bay gay couple second in Milwaukee County to attain marriage license
Mequon church offers to officiate same-sex weddings
Whitefish Bay — It took 14 years, but the marriage of Andrew Warner and Jay Edmundson was finally recognized by the state of Wisconsin last week.
When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the state's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional Friday, June 6, the Whitefish Bay couple was second in line at the Milwaukee County Courthouse for a marriage license. Their tears of joy were mixed with the uncertainty of a brand new court ruling and the panic of finding someone to drive their two sons home from lacrosse practice that afternoon.
The legal ceremony went off without a hitch, essentially ratifying the union created at their first wedding ceremony, which was held at a church 14 years ago.
"Friday was deeply moving and important, but it felt like the state was finally catching up to what we did in 2000," said Warner, a pastor at Plymouth Church on the east side of Milwaukee.
Ever since the chaotic Friday ceremony, Warner and Edmundson have been overwhelmed by kind words from their family, friends and neighbors. Although the couple are married, have two adopted sons — ages 14 and 11 — and a house in Whitefish Bay, Warner said he always felt his family has been viewed differently.
"In many ways I felt like were second-class people and a second-class family," Warner said. "Now I feel welcomed into Wisconsin in a way that I haven't in the 17 years I've lived here."
Warner and Edmundson were among 146 couples who applied for a marriage license at the Milwaukee County Courthouse over the weekend, which coincided with PrideFest at the Summerfest grounds. The festival counted a record-breaking 31,295 visitors June 6 through June 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."
The county courthouses in Milwaukee and Madison held special hours to accommodate marriage license requests. Other courthouses issued licenses when they opened Monday, including Waukesha County's, which saw about a dozen same-sex couples that morning.
Churches open doors
The first couple to the Milwaukee County Courthouse — and the first same-sex couple wed in Wisconsin — was Matthew Schreck and his partner Jose Fernando Gutierrez. They've been together for more than seven years, from Los Angeles to their current home in Bay View. After their courthouse union, which lasted about five minutes, Schreck and Fernando Gutierrez attended a more ceremonial blessing at Plymouth Church Sunday with other gay couples.
Similar services were offered at churches throughout the metropolitan area.
At Unitarian Church, 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 in 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."
And while some churches have welcomed gay marriage into their services, others have held that homosexuality is immoral.
"The church's stance is very clear. Marriage is between a man and a woman," said the Rev. Jeff Prasser of St. Aloysius Church, located at 1414 S. 93rd St. in West Allis.
The church doesn't allow same-sex marriages and Prasser said he doesn't expect that to change.
At the same time, he said, "Pope Francis says we don't judge people's private lives."
The road ahead
In addition to the celebrations, a lot of things happened immediately Friday. With the legal privileges of marriage, Fernando Guttierez became a homeowner of the house he shares with his husband. And as a Mexican native in the U.S. with a green card, Fernando Guttierez's path to citizenship was simplified.
But 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. Although a federal judge denied his request for the hold Monday, allowing gay marriages to continue at courthouses throughout the state, Schreck said he does worry about challenges to the decision.
"We know this is not the end," Schreck said. "But I believe the right thing will be done. We know that through this we have each other and we're not alone. Just to be able to be like everyone else is just amazing."
Carpenter said the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center considers the ruling a stepping stone toward equality, but the fight for equality 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."
Still, the moment is sweet for many. As Fernando Gutierrez and Schreck drove to the Plymouth Church ceremony Sunday, they turned up Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and didn't worry about who was listening.
"It was like we were at home and there was no shame anymore," Fernando Gutierrez said. "We were proud of our relationship."
Rory Linnane, John Rasche, Donna Frake and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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