The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the law firm of Mayer Brown filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eight same-sex couples who wished to marry in Wisconsin or were seeking recognition for their legal out-of-state marriages.

Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples prevented them from securing the hundreds of protections that state law provides to married couples. Wisconsin law subjected same-sex couples to an additional harm that is unique among states that denied same-sex couples the freedom to marry. The only way for Wisconsin couples to get the federal protections that come with marriage was for them to go out of state to marry. But Wisconsin law said that may be a crime punishable by nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Among the plaintiff couples, Schumacher and Wolf and Young and Willeswere legally married in another state, raising the possibility of prosecution back at home. Wallman and Borden were married in Canada and lived as a legally married couple for more than four years before they came to Madison in the fall of 2012 for Wallman to accept a job as the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

Meet the plaintiffs

The lawsuit challenged the overall ban as well as the application of this criminal law to same-sex couples who are forced to choose between being denied federal protections and the risk of criminal prosecution. The plaintiffs alleged that the state’s constitutional marriage ban sends a message that lesbians, gay men, and their children are viewed as second-class citizens who are undeserving of the legal sanction, respect, protections, and support that heterosexuals and their families are able to enjoy through marriage.

In a victory for LGBTQ+ rights, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb struck down the discriminatory marriage ban on June 6, 2014. The case was on appeal until October 6, 2014 when the Supreme Court denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. As a result of the Court’s action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah gained the right to marry the partners they love.