MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Joining a chorus of federal judges supporting marriage equality in the United States, a federal judge struck down a ban on gay marriage in Wisconsin.
The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of eight gay couples who sought either the right to marry or to have their marriages in other states recognized.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb on Friday found Wisconsin's law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman unconstitutional.
"This case is not about whether marriages between same-sex couples are consistent or inconsistent with the teachings of a particular religion, whether such marriages are moral or immoral or whether they are something that should be encouraged or discouraged," the 88-page opinion and order states. "It is not even about whether the plaintiffs in this case are as capable as opposite-sex couples of maintaining a committed and loving relationship or raising a family together. Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution.
"Although the parties in this case disagree about many issues, they do agree about at least one thing, which is the central role that marriage plays in American society. It is a defining rite of passage and one of the most important events in the lives of millions of people, if not the most important for some. Of course, countless government benefits are tied to marriage, as are many responsibilities, but these practical concerns are only one part of the reason that marriage is exalted as a privileged civic status. Marriage is tied to our sense of self, personal autonomy and public dignity. And perhaps more than any other endeavor, we view marriage as essential to the pursuit of happiness, one of the inalienable rights in our Declaration of Independence."
Crabb found that the state failed to show actual harm in recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples.
"Under these circumstances, personal beliefs, anxiety about change and discomfort about an unfamiliar way of life must give way to a respect for the constitutional rights of individuals, just as those concerns had to give way for the right of Amish people to educate their children according to their own values, Wisconsin v. Yoder
, for Jehovah's Witnesses to exercise their religion freely, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette
and for interracial couples to marry the person they believed was irreplaceable. Loving v. Virginia
," Crabb wrote. "In doing this, courts do not 'endorse' marriage between same-sex couples, but merely affirm that those couples have rights to liberty and equality under the Constitution, just as heterosexual couples do."
Two of the plaintiffs in the case - Kami Young and Karina Willes - were married last year in Minnesota. They have a newborn daughter, but Young, as the birth mother, is the only one listed on the child's Wisconsin birth certificate.
"Our daughter has two parents who love her dearly," Willes said in a statement. "I am no less a mother to her than Kami is, and she deserves the security of having both of her parents legally recognized. Our daughter shouldn't have second-class protections."
John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, applauded the decision.
"Wisconsin's constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples is a striking example of intentional discrimination towards lesbians and gay men in Wisconsin," Knight said in a statement. "The marriage ban has sent a powerful message that same-sex couples are undeserving of the dignity and important legal protections associated with marriage. Judge Crabb's decision that same-sex couples are equal under the law sends an entirely different message - one inviting and encouraging fair treatment and respect for these couples."