By 11 a.m. Saturday morning, Chelsea residents Marcia Wilson and Kim Richer were deemed wife and wife. Dressed in a simple hoodies-and-jeans ensemble, clutching red roses, they were officiated in a room in the lower floor of the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office among other beaming same-sex couples, children in their Sunday best offering stickers and cookies and families snapping iPhone pictures.
Same-sex couples waited hours to marry in Washtenaw County and three other counties around Michigan, taking part in an act that had been prohibited until the same-sex marriage ban was lifted on Friday.
However, the Wilson-Ritcher wedding and more than 100 others statewide may be at risk as a result of the stay of proceedings issued late Saturday by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. A stay is a legal action that suspends a particular proceeding within a case — same-sex marriage in this case.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) requested an emergency stay shortly after the decision was announced Friday at 5 p.m. Schuette defended the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage and requested the stay for the case shortly after the decision was announced Friday. The Court of Appeals issued the stay later Saturday.
The stay will halt ceremonies until Wednesday. At that point there will be a hearing concerning Schuette’s request.
Schuette defended the state in DeBoer v. Snyder, filed in January 2012. Federal Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Friday against the 2004 voter-passed Michigan Marriage Act, writing it was unconstitutional since it did not protect gays and lesbians equally under the law.
Hazel Park’s Jayne Rowse, a plaintiff in the case, said on Friday in an interview with The Michigan Daily that she was surprised there was no stay. She and her partner, Hazel Park resident April DeBoer, originally sued the state so they could jointly adopt their three special-needs children.
Twelve-year-old Aliza Breakey-Ways, wearing a dress purchased that morning for her fathers’ wedding, is one child who will be protected by the ruling. Her fathers, Ann Arbor residents Joe Breakey and Peter Ways, married on Saturday during what they said was an amazing day that will promise their child legal rights.
Breakey-Ways said she was excited to share the news of her fathers’ marriage with her friends.
“I mean, it’s in the Constitution that everyone’s equal and that law has been being broken for the last how ever many years,” Breakey-Ways said. “And finally justice is here.”
Ann Arbor Township residents Jennifer Gould and Gina Torielli, who were waiting for their marriage licenses on Saturday, said the added protection from state recognition.
“We feel validated,” Torielli said. “We’ve always felt married to each other, but it’s nice to have the state recognize it too.”
“We feel safer,” Gould added. “We can actually protect each other, financially, health wise.”
Statewide, before the stay went into effect Saturday night, more than 100 couples wedded and more than 300 obtained marriage licenses. Washtenaw County alone welcomed 74 new same-sex couples, while officials in Ingham, Muskegon and Oakland counties also processed marriage licenses.
The possibility of a stay led these countries to open their offices on Saturday, Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum (D) said. He said ensuring the extra resources, such as dedicating overtime pay to city personnel, to open the clerk’s office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. was wise and indicative of the support of the ban’s lift.
“It went from being a question of, ‘Could we do it?’ to ‘How could we not?’ ” he said.
Many of the couples who packed the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office on Saturday said they chose to get married that day because of the possibility of the stay.
However, the stay may render some of these nuptials legally ambiguous, Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, told The Detroit Free Press on Saturday. These marriages may be recognized by the federal government, but not by the state.
In December, a federal judge ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in Utah. However, a stay was issued in that state in January as the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case.
Friction between state and federal rulings are also epitomized in California. The Golden State’s supreme court deemed the state’s ban was unconstitutional in June 2008, but issuance of same-sex marriage licenses was barred after voters elected to ban same-sex marriage in Nov. 2008. The marriages occurring before November were legal, however. A June 2013 Supreme Court ruling overturned this ban, and same-sex couples in California can now seek marriage.
Schuette’s spokeswoman Joy Yearout did not comment to the Free Press regarding whether or not Schuette believes the weekend’s same-sex marriages should receive recognition from the state as appeals go through the courts.
On Friday, in an earlier interview with the Daily following the ban’s initial overturning, State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said Friedman’s ruling would likely stay.
“Regardless of whether or not we can get a stay or an appeal from the (Court of Appeals for the) Sixth Circuit, anyone who has read the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA needs to come to the conclusion that this case is a loser for Bill Schuette,” Irwin said.
Early Saturday, Kestenbaum said he doubts that the stay will have far-reaching effects. He said the political leanings of the Sixth Circuit coupled with the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act renders it unlikely that the federal court will uphold the 2004 ban on same-sex marriage.
Kestenbaum added it may be likely that conservative counties such as small, rural communities in Western Michigan would be slow to allow same-sex couples to marry. He said county clerks’ offices throughout the state should have an influx akin to Washtenaw County’s on Monday morning, if the emergency injunction had not succeeded. This would result in a lawsuit for such counties.
Hundreds of Washtenaw County residents awaited the office’s 9 a.m. opening and packed its lower and first floors. Couples swarmed the lobby as they waited to file their paperwork and obtain a marriage license. Occasionally, above the din of excited chatter, cheers filled the room to congratulate a newly licensed couple.
The frenzied mood tracked down the stairs into the lower level, where more than a dozen officiates offered religious and non-religious ceremonies.
Reverend Curt DeMars-Johnson, an Okemos resident who officiated same-sex ceremonies in the 1990s, said the energy in the clerk’s office, among Krispy Kreme donuts and laughter, was palpable.
“What I first witnessed when I was walking into the building is that there’s tremendous joy written all over the faces of many, many, many people walking out and entering the building,” DeMars-Johnson, of Webster United Church of Christ, said. “This is a long, long awaited-for moment.”
Couples at the clerk’s office emphasized, however, that the momentum for change in the LGBT community should not cease. Gould and Torielli pointed out how homosexuality is grounds for termination at work. When the two met 28 years ago, being gay was recently deemed no longer a disease.
But on a sunny, early spring day last weekend, laughter, cheers and kisses were ubiquitous.
“It feels fantastic. We’ve been waiting for a long time for this day,” Wilson said. She smiled and turned to her newly-deemed wife, and her decade-long partner. “What about you, babe?”
“It feels very long overdue,” Richer said. “It feels like it’s about time.”