Story by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
MASON, Mich. (AP) — A federal appeals court issued an order Saturday preventing more same-sex couples from getting married in Michigan for at least several more days.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said it issued the stay because it needed more time to consider the state’s appeal of a judge’s ruling Friday overturning Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The court said its stay would last until at least Wednesday.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of same-sex couples in at least four Michigan counties wasted no time in getting hitched, uncertain of how the appeals court would act.
Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51, of Lansing, were the first to arrive at the Ingham County Courthouse in the central Michigan city of Mason. DeJong and Caspar, who have been together for 27 years, received their license and were married by Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum.
“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 said that threat of the ban being set aside was all the encouragement they needed.
“Come Monday, we might not be able to do it, so we knew we had a short window of time,” she said.
Michigan voters approved the gay marriage ban in a landslide in 2004. But in Friday’s historic decision, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples, the latest in a series of decisions overturning similar laws across the country.
Two Detroit-area nurses who’ve been partners for eight years claimed the ban violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Nearly 60 percent of state voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
The case in Michigan involves two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer. They want to get married, but the original purpose of their 2012 lawsuit was to overturn Michigan’s ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples.
They are raising three adopted children with special needs at their Hazel Park home. But they can’t jointly adopt each other’s kids because joint adoption in the state is tied exclusively to marriage.
Rowse, 49, and DeBoer, 42, didn’t testify, and the trial had nothing to do with their relationship. In fact, attorneys for the state told the judge that they are great parents.
Instead, the state urged the judge to respect the results of a 2004 election in which 59 percent of voters said marriage in Michigan can only be between a man and a woman. Conservative scholars also questioned the impact of same-sex parenting on children.
But experts testifying for Rowse and DeBoer said there were no differences between the kids of same-sex couples and the children raised by a man and woman. And the University of Texas took the extraordinary step of disavowing the testimony of sociology professor Mark Regnerus, who was a witness for Michigan.
After the U.S. Supreme Court intervened 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.
Anna Kirkland, a University of Michigan professor who submitted an expert report in the Michigan case, said people who have received licenses are “legally married” regardless of what state officials do.
“A ruling from a federal judge on the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause … is binding on the state government,” said Kirkland, a professor of women’s studies and political science. “It’s the law of the land until or unless the Supreme Court says otherwise.”
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.
Elizabeth Patten, 52, and her partner of 28 years, Jonnie Terry, 50, of Ann Arbor, were the first couple married in Washtenaw County, where couples began to queue outside the clerk’s office at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and 74 licenses were issued.
“It was really surreal. I don’t know if this is the wedding we imagined,” Patten said after the impromptu ceremony performed by federal Judge Judith Levy in the basement of the county building. “But we are so pleased and honored to be a part of this process and have this opportunity today.”
The line grew, snaking around the corner, and dozens of couples and their family members hugged, hooted and hollered until County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum opened the doors at 8:50 a.m.
A county sheriff’s sergeant walked through the line handing out license applications. Where the form asked for the name of the “male,” lesbian couples wrote in an “f” and an “e” in front of the word.
Once paper licenses were approved by the clerk and his staff, couples headed downstairs to a room filled with pastors and a judge.
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 a stay.
“We’re trying to beat Bill Schuette to the punch,” said Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation Pastor Bill Freeman, who officiated at least eight weddings.
That sentiment was echoed in Mason by Joe Bissell and Justin Maynard, both 33-year-old Lansing residents, who were among more than 50 couples to get a license.
“We wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for that,” Bissell said. “We would’ve invited friends and family and not pissed off our mothers.”