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Marriage not possible yet for these local couples

Wanda Brown (left) and Phyllis Goldin were married in Canada nearly 10 years ago. The couple said they probably will not live to see Wisconsin give them the marriage rights Minnesota has given their citizens. 1 / 2
John Weihing (left) and Euge Isherwood have been together for more than 10 years and said even though they call River Falls home, Minnesota's new legislation makes moving temping.2 / 2

For most people, weddings can be delayed  by family trifles, venue hunting or finding the perfect dress. For the minority population, what bars them from saying “I do” is the state of Wisconsin.

For two couples in River Falls who have been together for more than a decade, not being able to marry is more than a white dress and a perfectly iced cake.

“It’s a civil rights issue,” said Phyllis Goldin.

Goldin and Wanda Brown have been together for almost 40 years after meeting at a poetry writer’s group in 1974.

“Our friends were fine with us, but it was a pretty scary time,” said Brown.

The couple has endured hate mail, hateful phone calls and a hate crime, among other things.

“We’ve been through a lot, and that’s how civil rights movements go. You stand for something and some people don’t like it,” she said.

“Now we find ourselves on the cusp of history here,” said Goldin. “We never expected that within our lifetimes things would change to the point where we might actually be able to legally marry.”

Even though the “trajectory of this civil rights movement progress is a bigger distance than we could have ever anticipated in our lifetime,” Brown said they still have not achieved equality.

“I would be excited to be treated equally as everyone else,” said Euge Isherwood.

Isherwood and his partner John Weihing have been together since they met in 1998 in Hurley. Even though they were both from River Falls, Isherwood was there on a skiing trip with friends and Weihing was there for business.

“He came to pick me up and he realized he used to live across the street from me. We had seen each other before, but we hadn’t really connected,” said Isherwood. “We often say we were meant to be together.”

Commitment made, both couples are unable to tie the knot because the state of Wisconsin declared same sex marriage unconstitutional with a 2006 statewide amendment vote.

For same sex marriage to become constitutional, the amendment would have to be repealed and a new law put into place.

Democrat state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout said this would most likely take 10 years to do, six years “if we get to work on it right now,” which she said was impossible.

Both couples said that it was hard to live in River Falls and not be married, when just across the river in Minnesota they could be.

“The week the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) ruling came down, those Wednesday and Thursday nights, I couldn’t stop thinking about selling our house and moving five miles away as the crow flies across the border… and living in Minnesota,” said Isherwood.

In Wisconsin, the two are recognized as domestic partners and have done everything they can to have “legally the same as a marriage,” said Isherwood, who added: “By doing that, we still didn’t have the taxation benefits, Social Security benefits, inheritance … the same way.”

Goldin and Brown were legally married in Canada, where Goldin was born, so Brown achieved Canadian citizenship through marriage.  

“Of course, Wisconsin will not honor our Canadian marriage,” Goldin said. “The irony is that (Wisconsin) honors Canadian marriages, except for our Canadian marriage, like our Canadian marriage is substantially different from other Canadian marriages.”

If they moved to Minnesota, according to a Washington County marriage official, they would be legally married, “As long as they have a document that shows they’re married.”

In River Falls, they are recognized as a domestic partnership, but Brown said, “We are a married couple. That the state of Wisconsin happens to not recognize that we’re a married couple doesn’t mean we’re not married. We’re absolutely married.”

For the complete story, please see the July 11 print edition of the River Falls Journal.