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Gay couples rush to marry at Wisconsin courthouses

MILWAUKEE--Dozens of gay couples married Saturday at courthouses in Milwaukee and Madison, taking advantage of what most believed would be a small window in which to get hitched before a judge's decision overturning the state of Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban was put on hold.

The decision was announced Friday afternoon just as the party was getting started at PrideFest, an annual gay celebration that draws thousands of people to Milwaukee's festival grounds on Lake Michigan.

Many couples who married Saturday said the judge's decision had caught them by surprise, and they hadn't wanted to break Friday night plans. Others needed time to assemble the documents required for a marriage license. Couples began lining up outside the Milwaukee County courthouse at 6 a.m., three hours before it opened.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling Friday afternoon striking down Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage just as the gay festival PrideFest was starting in Milwaukee. Many couples who married Saturday morning said they had elected to attend the festival the night before since they already had plans with friends. Then they got up early and went to the courthouse.

Also on Friday, seven couples filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state constitution's prohibition on same-sex marriage in North Dakota, making it the last U.S. state with a ban to be sued by gay couples seeking the right to wed in their home state.

The North Dakota lawsuit, filed in federal court in Fargo, challenges both that state's ban on gay marriage and its refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who legally wed in other states. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he had not yet seen the lawsuit challenging the state's 2004 ban. The lawsuit claims violations on three issues that are guaranteed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: equal protection, due process and right to travel.

That means cases are currently pending in all 31 states with gay marriage bans. Gay couples can already wed in 19 states and Washington, D.C.

Judges have overturned several state bans since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, with Wisconsin being the latest. Many of those rulings are being appealed, and Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen vowed to do the same.

While Crabb declared Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, she did not order the state to allow such marriages. Instead, she asked the couples who sued to describe exactly what they wanted her to block in the gay marriage law.

Attorney Larry Dupuis, who represented the couples who sued, said the American Civil Liberties Union would respond to Crabb's request next week and he expected her to explicitly order marriages to begin after that.

Meanwhile, Van Hollen asked Crabb on Friday to issue an emergency stay halting the issuing of further marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He was expected to petition a federal appeals court for a similar order on Monday.

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 Poet and author Maya Angelou remembered 
Monika Urana, second left, and Julie Nischik, both of Madison, embrace and kiss after getting married in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, June 7.

(AP)

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