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Saturday, June 14, 2014

At the Hands of the Oppressor: A Reflection on Marriage Equality Week in Wisconsin

On Friday, June 6, 2014, Judge Crabb granted marriage equality in Wisconsin.

I wasn't far from home that evening, but it felt like the longest drive I'd had in a while. Only moments earlier that Friday, my love, Sara, sent me a text message stating that marriage equality passed in Wisconsin. Thrilled. I arrived home thrilled. We gathered our things and raced down to the courthouse to apply for our marriage license. This probably seems really reactionary, and it was. We'd been waiting nearly eleven years for this day.

Outagamie county courthouse greeted us with locked doors. A cold, uninviting sign was taped to the door. The courthouse had implemented summer hours to conserve energy. New hours were 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Disappointed, but not surprised, Sara and I headed home. Grandma and Grandpa had our babies for the weekend, so we were off to celebrate this magnificent day in our state. 

The local gay bar, the place where we first felt comfortable being out, met us with hugs, a cold drink, and the best fish fry in town. We hunkered down with some close friends and conversed about the day's ruling. Marriage equality? In Wisconsin? Hardly any of us could believe it. It was surreal.

Saturday delivered us to our first PrideFest. Milwaukee bound, we were eager to spend the day with friends and see artist (and my secret crush), Mary Lambert. The day was fulfilling and way more social than I normally am in an entire week. Mary Lambert sang her heart out. I cried like a baby. It was a happy, happy date-day.

I welcomed the quiet, normal Sunday. And, looking back on the entire last week, Sunday was the only normal day in it. It was the only day with level emotions, house cleaning, grocery shopping, and kid keeping. Sunday was my kind of day. We checked off our laundry list of to dos, picked up our kiddos, and spent the evening at home eating pizza and enjoying one another's company. It was an "early to bed" night because the next day was marriage license day. We were summoned by a friend to arrive to the courthouse early. There would be news crews and they would want statements. This was our history. We were in!

Monday morning came quickly. No one wants to wake their kids up early to go to the courthouse, so we were sure to tell ours that it was a party. Getting them out of bed was no problem. We all put on our nice clothes. We were television ready, but, more importantly, we were ready to get married should our clerk of courts, Lori O'Bright, be kind enough to waive the five day waiting period associated with marriage license applications.

It was chilly, but we didn't complain. We arrived at the courthouse at 6:15 a.m. We were met by some familiar faces, some unfamiliar faces, and a few different news crews. We interviewed with Fox 11 first, followed by Channel 5, and finally the Post Crescent. I think my family was exhausted before the courthouse doors even opened, but none of us were willing to show it. Sara and I were well aware that this time in history needed voices, voices for families like ours and couples like us. We were willing to be part of those voices.

The amount of support at the courthouse on Monday was wonderful. I don't recall seeing anyone protesting. In fact, the only protestor I saw stood, very cross, behind the desk at the clerk of courts office. Lori O'Bright glared as we filed through the door into her office. Sara and I led the way with our kids. We were followed by some friends of ours, also there the apply for their marriage license, several other couples, and the news crews.

We greeted Lori pleasantly and stated that we were there to apply for a marriage license. She pierced us with cold eyes and abruptly stated that no same-sex marriage licenses were being issued by her. Then, in all her glory, she looked toward the back of the room and summoned any straight couples seeking a marriage license. No one advanced. The silence in the room was deafening.

Then the questions began. It was polite interrogation, but interrogation nonetheless. Why? Why? Why? Was it because of her personal beliefs? Did she recall Judge Crabb's recent ruling? Why? Why? Why? It didn't take long for Mrs. O'Bright to get flustered and retreat to her office. What. The. Fuck.

I so wasn't expecting that. Sara wasn't either. I'm not sure anyone in her office that morning expected to be met with such disgust and resistance. Her hate was not disguised. She laid out right in front of us on her desk. Her face said it all.

We began a peaceful protest, one that Sara and I had to excuse ourselves from. With a new job, she was in training and could not excuse herself from work. My work week was complete hell from a scheduling perspective. I had back to back meetings all week with several presentations that I had to prepare for and deliver. Any other week I would welcome that kind of work chaos, but this week I longed for desk time and solitude. As it ended up and unbeknownst to me at the time, my work schedule was a much needed distraction for the shit show that Wisconsin marriage equality turned into.

I didn't want to leave the courthouse on Monday silent, so I left Mrs. O'Bright with a letter. Others left flowers on the desk as a way of demonstrating what she was taking away from the couple's that showed up there that morning. That Monday morning was our first defeat of the week.

Sara and I each made it to work for 8:00 a.m. We used our breaks to check in on progress at the courthouse. Nearly three hours after our departure, Lori began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. As I understand it, took her getting someone to help her locate the eighty-eight pages of opinion that she should have read in advance and consulting with her legal council to come to this decision. 

Waiting an entire day to apply for our marriage license was difficult, but we did it. We arrived at the courthouse promptly at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday and were met with a little less bitchy O'Bright. She was very matter of fact in her requests, but was not rude this time. She shuffled us through the process quickly. We asked her to waive the five day waiting period. No. We asked about a refund in the event of a stay. No. She explained the rules surrounding the license and the fees associated with changes and sent us on our way. 

For two days we were happy. Elated even. We had successfully submitted our marriage license application. We would pick up our license on Monday and have a shot-gun wedding immediately following. We would get in just under the wire. Judge Crabb would have a hearing that Tuesday and determine whether or not a stay would be imposed. If a stay is imposed, which it had been on all other marriage equality states except Oregon, marriage equality could go away temporarily or permanently. We couldn't risk it after waiting all these years.

Pins and needles began Wednesday night when we learned that Judge Crabb moved the court date from the following Tuesday to Friday of the current week. We wanted to be proactive, but I couldn't get out of work due to an early morning meeting and presentation. Instead, Sara went down to the courthouse to talk Lori O'Bright into waiving the five day waiting period. Our argument was one of extenuating circumstances resulting from the change in court date and the likelihood that a stay would be imposed. Again she denied us. Relentless and cold, she showed no mercy. No signs of backing down. The ability to waive the waiting period was up to her discretion and she was taking full advantage. Sara and I were sickened.

Other couples pleaded with Lori that Thursday. Though at one time she did consult with her legal council, she ultimately denied all of them. She would only waive the five day waiting period for extenuating circumstances such as those defined by, oh, I don't know, her. Meanwhile, in other counties, some couples are experiencing the same as us while others apply and marry on the same day. If you want to know what it feels like to be bursting with sorrow and joy and fight all at the same time, ask me. I could blubber about it for hours. And, as much as I'd like to feel numbness right now, I am so overflowing with sorrow and joy and fight.

Friday came. It was a grueling day of waiting for many, but for me was distracted by stacks and stacks of meetings. The hearing was to being at 1:00 p.m. I left work and arrived home to no verdict. We waited and waited. The verdict came at about 5:30 p.m. Stay. As much as we expected it, it was like a blow to the gut. We would not be married on Monday or in the state of Wisconsin anytime in the near future. Marriage equality was stayed. Sara and I and so many other same-sex couples were again not equal in the eyes of the law.

We were immediately contacted by a friend to do an interview with the Post Crescent and with Channel 2 news. Sad and frustrated at the turn of events, we agreed. We would check the rawness of our emotions at the door and speak to the facts. In our county, Outagamie County, all of this heartache could have been prevented at the hands of one woman, Mrs. Lori O'Bright. She took the immediate futures of same-sex families and crushed them. No, that is not a pessimistic statement. It is fact. And it is why families like mine have to fight so, so hard to be equal in the eyes of the law.

Sara and I will not be married on Monday. We will be rallying on Monday. We will be a voice among many at the Outagamie county courthouse peacefully expressing our anguish as a direct result of Mrs. O'Bright's decisions. Those of us that were able to apply for a marriage license will be requesting a refund of our money on the grounds that the imposed stay prevents us from even obtaining our marriage license. I'm interested to see how Lori reacts to this request, especially given her resistance throughout the course of this past week.

On Friday, June 13th, Judge Crabb put a stay on marriage equality in Wisconsin.

Our fight continues, peacefully and respectfully, but by no means silently.