Tosa East graduate Matthew Schreck and his partner, Jose Fernando Gutierrez, made a pact last year that if Wisconsin didn't allow same-sex marriage within two years, they would move to Minnesota or Illinois.
When U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb declared the state's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional Friday, they were first in line at the Milwaukee County Courthouse for a marriage license, and the first same-sex couple wed in Wisconsin. They've been together for more than seven years, from Los Angeles to their current home in Bay View.
"It's been like coming home again," Fernando Gutierrez said. "When we would go visit friends in Illinois or Minnesota, it was a weird feeling, when you feel more at home away from home, because of the protections you have there."
Schreck added: "It's comforting knowing we can actually call this home."
Schreck and Fernando Gutierrez were one of 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 courthouse held special hours along with the Dane County Courthouse to accommodate marriage 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
After their courthouse union, which lasted about five minutes, Schreck and Fernando Gutierrez attended a more ceremonial blessing at Plymouth Church on Milwaukee's East Side on Sunday with other gay couples. Similar services were offered at churches throughout the state.
Some churches, like St. Aloysius Church in West Allis, upheld the belief that same-sex marriage goes against biblical teaching.
"The church's stance is very clear. Marriage is between a man and a woman," the Rev. Jeff Prasser of St. Aloysius said.
But in Brookfield, the Rev. Suzelle Lynch and the congregation of Unitarian Universalist Church West celebrated the ruling throughout the weekend.
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 a total of 10 same-sex marriages Saturday. They officiated another five weddings at the Waukesha County Courthouse on Monday.
Lynch noted that many of the couples whose ceremonies she has officiated in the last week had already pledged themselves to one another.
"(Saturday) wasn't my first same-sex wedding. It was just the first legal one. I first married two women back when I was a young clergywoman," Lynch said. "This wasn't anybody's last-minute decision. Many of them had already had a non-legal ceremony and wore rings already."
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 suddenly 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 is already looking beyond the ruling.
"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."
Geoff Bruce, Jane Ford, Donna Frake, John Rasche and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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