Waukesha County Clerk On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Home » Here and Now » All Episodes » Waukesha County Clerk On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Waukesha County Clerk On Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Premiere Date: 
June 13, 2014

Kathleen Novack decided to issue the licenses following last week's federal court ruling.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Hundreds of same-sex couples have gotten married since a week ago when Judge Crabb's ruling came down saying the amendment against it was unconstitutional. All but nine Wisconsin counties issuing marriage licenses for these couples, including Waukesha County, where in 2006 voters approved the marriage amendment with 62% in favor. Waukesha County clerk Kathleen Novack joins us now, and thanks for doing so.

Kathleen Novack:

Thank you for inviting me.  

Frederica Freyberg:

Why did you decide to start issuing marriage licenses even in the absence of direction from the federal court?

Kathleen Novack:

Well, quite frankly, I think the fact that there was a lack of direction was a big part of the factor. While she did not issue an order telling us to issue the licenses, she also didn't sign the stay. And by not doing one or the other, she left us really kind of hanging out in limbo. So we had to do a lot of considerations on the situation in general from a legal standpoint.

Frederica Freyberg:

How many have been issued so far this week?

Kathleen Novack:

So far we're only-- Well, I shouldn't-- I don't know about only, but we're at about 20 in Waukesha County.

Frederica Freyberg:

How difficult was the decision in Waukesha County, where voters overwhelmingly approved of the marriage amendment back in 2006?

Kathleen Novack:

Well, I have to say it's probably the most difficult decision I've had to make. Clearly, it's the most difficult. And it wasn't done quickly. We had a lot of conversations within my office and the corporate counsel's office on Monday morning. We did ask the different couples to kind of spend some time in a conference room until we really came to an approach or an understanding of what we wanted to do, and at that point we did decide to issue the same-sex licenses.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, have you taken –

Kathleen Novack:

But it was very difficult.

Frederica Freyberg:

Have you taken some heat from constituents or others?

Kathleen Novack:

I've taken an incredible amount of heat, a lot of phone calls. Not too many emails. And certainly it's active on talk radio in the area.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet you didn't-- you persisted. You just stayed with the decision you made Monday morning.

Kathleen Novack:

The decision was made based on the fact that a federal judge had ruled the ban on the same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and that to me was an overriding judicial decision, and under the oath that I've taken as an elected official, I was obligated to follow that ruling.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about what's your reaction to the attorney general saying that clerks like yourself could be prosecuted for issuing these licenses because you took the law into your own hands? What was your reaction to that?

Kathleen Novack:

Well, yesterday my reaction was one thing. I just was really kind of amazed that he would make that statement and, quite frankly, I would say the Wisconsin County Clerks Association group code was quite active all afternoon about it. I did just recently see an email that he sent out to his district attorneys telling them that he was not encouraging or even recommending in any way that he was going to be-- that he thought criminal issues should be pursued, and in fact his response was merely an answer to a question on whether or not there was some potential, I guess-- I don't know if I want to say liability. I'm having trouble with my words. But some exposure that clerks might have by following the federal judge's ruling.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, going forward, how confused do you suppose it might get if on appeal the marriage amendment stands?  

Kathleen Novack:

Well, if it stands, then obviously the county clerk's office will not be issuing same-sex marriage licenses, so if it-- if it's-- And I assume I'm understanding your question correctly. Are you talking about if the stay is issued or if the –

Frederica Freyberg:

If in fact on appeal if it goes to the court of appeals or the US Supreme Court and our amendment is ruled that it is constitutional. What happens to the people who this week got those marriage licenses and got married?  

Kathleen Novack:

Well, and quite frankly at the county clerk's level, we don't know. We've actually handed out a one-page statement, I guess, to the different couples advising them that there is some very definite legal hurdles that they may have to face in the future.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We need to leave it there.

Kathleen Novack:

So we really don't know.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Kathleen Novack, thanks very much.

Kathleen Novack:

Great. Thank you.   


We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your comment or story suggestion.

Get to know the Here and Now crew.

Find information on elections and candidates and connect to coverage from Wisconsin Public Television and Radio.