DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Michigan has officially issued the its first marriage license for a same-sex couple, less than 24 hours after the state’s ban on gay marriage was scratched from the constitution by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman.
More than 500 people were at the Oakland County Courthouse Saturday to get marriage licenses and for some to even exchange wedding vows.
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. Byrum said it was an honor to marry same-sex couples who have waited too long for this day.
“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 and Caspar have been together for 27 years. 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 gay marriage as Attorney General Bill Schuette did immediately after Friday’s ruling.
Clerks who handle marriage licenses in at least four of Michigan’s 83 counties are granting them to gays and lesbians on Saturday. Before offices in Oakland, Washtenaw, Ingham and Muskegon counties opened their doors, dozens of couples were lined up, eagerly waiting hand-and-hand for their chance to be legally united.
After couples get their marriage license, many will be headed to Ferndale — which has one of the highest LGBT populations in the Detroit-area. Mayor Dave Coulter told WWJ Newsradio 950 he will be presiding over same-sex marriage ceremonies between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday at the Affirmations Community Center — located on 9 Mile Road just west of Woodward Avenue.
“I’ve had a number of people who have been waiting many, many years to do this and they want to do this just as soon as possible,” Coulter said. “Normally, I wouldn’t be doing marriages on a Saturday but in respect of their long-time commitments and their eager desire to do this, I’ll be available to marry any Michigan residents.”
While Coulter said he’s honored to be part of such a landmark movement, he’s not sure what will happen if a federal appeals court suspends the ruling.
“We’re in pretty unchartered grounds here, but my understanding is that no additional weddings would be able to take place. What happens to the marriages that were performed, it’s not clear to me,” he said.
Friedman on Friday ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage, approved by voters in a landslide in 2004, the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples. Shortly thereafter, Schuette asked a higher court to freeze the ruling while an appeal is pursued. It was not known when the federal appeals court in Cincinnati would respond.
The decision by Friedman was historic, following a two-week trial that explored attitudes and research about homosexual marriage and households led by same-sex couples. The judge rejected the conclusions of experts hired by the state to defend the rationale behind a constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman.
The attorney general’s office emphasized the 59 percent approval by voters as well as tradition and child-rearing as reasons why the 2004 amendment should stand. Friedman, however, wasn’t swayed.
The judge 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.
“It is the court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up ‘to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives,”‘ Friedman said, quoting the Supreme Court. “Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.”
DeBoer and Rowse said Friday that they’ll get married when the case ends, a process that could take years with appeals.
“We don’t want to speculate what’s to come,” DeBoer said. “We want to get married. We will be getting married — when we know that our marriage is forever binding.”
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.
While DeJong and Caspar were the first couple to wed after getting a Michigan license, it was not the first same-sex wedding to occur in the state. Two men became spouses a year ago during a ceremony at a northern Michigan Indian reservation after the tribal chairman signed a measure approving same-sex marriage.
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