On Thursday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that county clerks could be charged for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In a Friday email to state prosecutors, however, Van Hollen said that his comments have received "unfortunate and amplified media attention."
Van Hollen said the Journal Sentinel asked him whether clerks could be charged for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban on June 6. He says he did not suggest or recommend the criminal charging of county clerks. "I never indicated an intention by this office to investigate or charge any county officer," he wrote.
He said he acknowledged that clerks could be charged, but that it would be "very fact-specific and up to district attorneys." He also noted that he would "certainly not encourage any prosecutor to do so and even suggested at the conclusion of the interview that the reporter should not print on that subject as it would be fear mongering."
The Journal Sentinel article did not report that Van Hollen was initiating charges or an investigation. It was headlined "Van Hollen: Clerks issuing licenses to gay couples could be charged." According to the article, Van Hollen said he did not believe that same-sex couples could be prosecuted but that county clerks could be.
"That's going to be up to district attorneys, not me," he said. "There are penalties within our marriage code, within our statutes, and hopefully they're acting with full awareness of what's contained therein."