Shari Roll was clutching the marriage certificate. Renee Currie was clutching Shari Roll. And when their designated officiant, Mike Quieto, pronounced them married, they smiled so perfectly, so naturally, that it seemed as if this was just another wedding on the courthouse steps.
And, of course, it was.
The only distinction was that this was the first legally recognized marriage of two women in Wisconsin, the first same-sex marriage in Madison, the one of the initial celebrations of the marriage equality ruling issued by a federal judge Friday afternoon. By the end of the weekend in Madison, 137 same-sex couples had been issued marriage licenses by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, while 146 licenses were issued by Milwaukee County Joe Czarnezki.
Together for years and very much in love, Roll and Currie could easily have driven to the neighboring state of Iowa, which has since 2009 recognized marriage equality. Thousands of Wisconsin couples, including Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and his husband, Phil Frank, married outside the state after a ban on same-sex marriages was enacted in 2006. But Roll and Currie decided to wait for a future when the state could no longer restrict the most basic rights of loving couples.
“We wanted to get married where we live,” explained Shari Roll.
I understand that. There are a great many Americans who choose to marry in the place where we live, embraced by the people we know, grounded in the values and the unique interactions of the very different communities and states that make up these United States.
My hometown of Madison’s uniqueness was evident Friday night, as dozens of couples got their licenses and married on the steps of the downtown building that serves both as the Madison City Hall and the Dane County Courthouse. Judges in robes waited on the steps, meeting couples and performing the marriages as cheers went up from the ever-expanding crowd of well-wishers. Children showed up, brimming with bouquets. I asked who the wedding flowers were for and they replied, “For everyone who is getting married today.” Then they starting handing flowers out to couples who had rushed to the courthouse without much preparation but suddenly felt very special and very loved.
Then the cops arrived with the wedding cakes. Several Madison Police officers who had been observing the festivities raced off to a nearby grocery store and bought three large cakes. Everyone was eating and cheering as the Klezmer band marched up and a fiddler played “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” for a pair of women who waited thirty years to marry.
Marriage equality is not a new premise. The barriers are falling rapidly. Since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman, it has, in fact, become inevitable. Following on the Supreme Court ruling of last summer, the group Freedom to Marry says twenty consecutive rulings by state and federal judges have found state marriage bans unconstitutional—and more will do so.