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Criminal Penalties for Getting Married?


As couples from around the country flock to California to take advantage of the state’s new same-sex marriage law, a variety of legal issues are arising. Despite the state Supreme Court’s ruling in May that denying same-sex couples marriage rights was unconstitutional, California voters will have a chance in November to amend the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

If the amendment passes, experts are unsure what will happen to those same-sex couples who chose to get married before it passed; some suggest that the state will forcibly divorce the married same-sex couples.

But, according to the Capital Times, same-sex Wisconsin couples who choose to marry in California could face penalties more serious than technical divorce. Since California has no residency requirements for marriage in the state, gay couples the country over can get valid marriage certificates from the Golden State.

But gays who marry and return to Wisconsin could face criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.

What, you say? Criminal penalties for getting married?

Good point. But, as legal experts examine the likely outcomes of gay non-Californians marrying and returning to their home states, some interesting laws have been exposed. In most states, same-sex marriage isn’t recognized, and those who choose to marry will simply not have a recognized union where they live.

But in Delaware and Wisconsin, old laws reportedly prevent state residents from entering into marriages that are prohibited in the state. Apparently, a 1915 law that was part of the Uniform Marriage Evasion Act calls for penalties of up to $10,000 or nine months in jail for Wisconsinites who enter into marriages considered illegal in the state (for Delaware residents, the penalties can include a $100 fine or 30 days in jail).

The law was evidently meant to prevent minors from crossing state lines to enter into marriages before they were legally eligible in Wisconsin. But, it seems, many gay rights activists are worried that district attorneys will interpret the law to prosecute gay newlyweds returning from California nuptial ceremonies.

WKOWTV.com reports that some gay and lesbian couples are willing to risk being prosecuted for their marriages, and would even welcome legal action, as they believe it would raise public awareness of their situation.

And, while the CEO of the Wisconsin Family Council apparently believes that gays who marry in California and return to Wisconsin should be charged with fraud, less conservative officials have pointed out that the rule was put on the books five years before women had the right to vote. In other words, things have changed since it was passed.

Whether or not married gay couples are prosecuted in Wisconsin courts remains to be seen; while the District Attorney for Dane County reportedly said that such lawsuits would be a “poor use” of resources, others think that legal action is within the realm of possibility.

Sources point out that gay couples who chose to get married in Canada (where gay marriage has been legal since 2003) have not yet been prosecuted under the antiquated law. The United States General Accounting office has calculated that married couples receive 1,138 separate benefits from the federal government that gay couples are denied.

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