Elizabeth Patten, left, holds up the first marriage ticket to marry her partner Johnnie Terry today in front of the Washtenaw County Clerks office in Ann Arbor, Mich.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
MASON, Mich. — Two women were the first gay couple to marry in Michigan on Saturday, one day after the state’s ban on gay marriage was scratched from the state constitution by a federal judge.
Couples wasted no time getting to courthouses in four counties out of concern that the state attorney general’s request for a stay could be granted at any time.
Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51, both of Lansing, were married by Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum in Mason just after her office opened at 8 a.m. Saturday. DeJong and Caspar have been together for 27 years.
“I figured in my lifetime it would happen,” Caspar said. “But now, when it happens now, it’s just overwhelming. I still can’t believe it. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
DeJong called it a day of “sheer joy,” adding that Michigan should not “waste taxpayer dollars and cause more turmoil” by pursuing a stay on the ruling as Attorney General Bill Schuette did immediately after Friday’s ruling.
Clerks who handle marriage licenses in Michigan’s 83 counties said they would start granting them to gays and lesbians. At least four did so Saturday, and others have said they’ll follow suit Monday.
Voters approved the gay marriage ban in a landslide in 2004. Byrum said it was an honor to marry same-sex couples who have waited too long.
It isn’t known when a federal appeals court in Cincinnati will respond to Schuette’s request for a stay while an appeal is pursued. Schuette noted Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and suspended a similar decision in January that struck down Utah’s gay-marriage ban.
“A stay would serve the public interest by preserving the status quo ... while preventing irreparable injury to the state and its citizens,” he said.
It isn’t clear what would happen if a stay is issued in Michigan.
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s intervention in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered state agencies to hold off on moving forward with any new benefits for the hundreds of same-sex couples who married during the three-week window until the courts resolved the issue. Agencies were told not to revoke anything already issued, such as a driver’s license with a new name, but were prohibited from approving any new marriages or benefits.
Utah made clear it was not ordering agencies to void the marriages, but that their validity would be decided by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage also have been overturned in Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
A Unitarian Universalist church in Muskegon in western Michigan had a clerk issuing wedding licenses Saturday morning. They started a couple hours earlier than planned out of concern the court would approve Schuette’s request.
“We’re trying to beat Bill Schuette to the punch,” said Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation Pastor Bill Freeman, who officiated at least eight or nine weddings. “We want to get these weddings done while they’re legal.”
Friday’s historic decision by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who said the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples, followed a two-week trial that explored attitudes and research about homosexual marriage and households led by same-sex couples.
The attorney general’s office emphasized the 59 percent approval by voters as well as tradition and child-rearing as reasons why the amendment should stand. Friedman, however, wasn’t swayed.
He praised April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two Detroit-area nurses who are raising three children with special needs. They filed a lawsuit in 2012 because they’re barred from jointly adopting each other’s children. Joint adoption is reserved for married heterosexual couples in Michigan.
“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’ state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people,” the judge said.
DeBoer and Rowse said Friday that they’ll get married when the case ends, a process that could take years with appeals.
“We will be getting married — when we know that our marriage is forever binding,” DeBoer said.
The 31-page decision was filed in Detroit’s federal court when most county offices were closed and couldn’t issue licenses.
Dave Murray, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, said the state has an “obligation” to defend what voters chose a decade ago.
If a “court concludes the provision of the Michigan Constitution cannot be enforced, he’d respect those decisions and follow the rule of law,” Murray said of Snyder.
While DeJong and Caspar were the first couple to receive a Michigan license, it was not the first same-sex wedding to occur in the state. Two men married a year ago during a ceremony at a northern Michigan Indian reservation after the tribal chairman approved a measure.