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Same-sex couples celebrate right to marry in Milwaukee County

Matthew Schreck and his partner Jose Fernando Gutierrez enjoy their Bay View home as a newly married couple. They were the first same-sex couple to be legally wed in Wisconsin.

Matthew Schreck and his partner Jose Fernando Gutierrez enjoy their Bay View home as a newly married couple. They were the first same-sex couple to be legally wed in Wisconsin. Photo By Rory Linnane

June 10, 2014

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."

"It's comforting knowing we can actually call this home," Schreck added.

The ruling had its detractors.

The Rev. Ross Layne, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in West Allis at 8400 W. Beloit Road, said he was "grieved" by the recent ruling.

"We do not hate or dislike people who have same sex attractions," Layne said. "It's just like God loves people who defy him every day but does not condone what they do."

Although Grace Community Church stresses love and care for all, Layne said that it cannot support support same-sex marriage.

"We believe it's completely anti-Biblical," he said.

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 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 respond

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 Sunday with other gay couples. Similar services were offered at churches throughout the county.

Schreck and Gutierrez, the newly weds, were able to witness the marriage of a minister from their Plymouth Church in Milwaukee, located at 2717 E. Hampshire Street, on Friday evening.

Andrew Warner, the minister, married his longtime partner Jay Edmundson at the courthouse before performing a wedding ceremony for two male members of his church.

"I always felt like we were second-class citizens in not being able to get married,'' Warner told the Associated Press. ''And now I feel good about my state in a way I haven't before.''

And while some churches have welcomed gay marriage into their services, others have upheld the belief that same-sex marriage continues to be against biblical teaching.

"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 Catholic Church doesn't allow same-sex marriages and he doesn't expect that to change, Prasser said.

At the same time, he said, "Pope Francis says we don't judge people's private lives."

The Rev. Susan Lockman, pastor of the First United Methodist Church at 7520 W. Lapham St. in West Allis, said that although the official stance of the church is in opposition to same-sex marriage, there appears to be some internal debate.

"The current stand of the United Methodist Church is that clergy are not allowed to officiate same gender weddings," Lockman said. "But we're not all of one mind in agreement. We're pretty divided on that."

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 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 relationship."

Donna Frake, Jane Ford-Stewart and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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