Outside a small Ann Arbor pub Sunday evening, dozens of couple drank champagne, chatted excitedly and blew bubbles in celebration of their wedding anniversaries. However, in the minds of many, Sunday was no ordinary anniversary celebration.
Same-sex couples from the Washtenaw County area gathered at Aut Bar on Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of their first year of marriage — unions granted during a one-day period last year when same-sex marriage was legal in Michigan.
On March 22, 2014 — the day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban — Washtenaw County recognized 74 same-sex marriages. The state issued 300 marriage licenses and married more than 100 couples directly within a five-hour period.
However, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) requested an emergency stay on the decision, which the Court of Appeals granted the day after Friedman’s ruling. Once the emergency stay went into effect, same-sex marriage was no longer permitted.
Even so, the district court decided to recognize the 300 marriages preformed prior to the stay.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban last November. The case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on April 28.
Keith Orr, co-owner of Aut Bar, organized the ceremony to bring together all couples that wed the day after Friedman’s ruling. Orr and his husband Martin Contreras, the other co-owner of Aut Bar, were among the couples celebrating their first anniversary.
“We realized that within days, 320 couples were going to have the same anniversary, and we were going to have to do something that day,” Orr said.
Washtenaw County residents Diane VanDorn and Connie Greer also wed during the brief window same-sex marriage was legalized. Though the two had been together for nearly 18 years and have raised four children together, they said they were elated after they finally received government recognition and protection.
“It was exciting because our children are safe now,” VanDorn said. “My spouse has had cancer and I’ve had a stroke and for them to be protected if something happens to one of us is really important. And now we know that they are safe.”
Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum also attended the ceremony, and recalled his experience issuing marriage licenses following Friedman’s decision.
According to Kestenbaum, there was concern about a state-mandated stay as soon as the decision was announced. He said amid the worry, the county supported him, allowing him to work overtime and keep offices open to issue as many licenses as he could.
“A lot of people felt urgency to do something,” Kestenbaum said.
Kestenbaum said he felt disappointed by the ruling of the Sixth Circuit Court to uphold the ban. He added that he believes the political affiliations of some Sixth Circuit judges were why they supported the ban.
“I was angry when the state came down, I was disappointed at the time of the ruling but I knew the ruling was not going to stand,” he said. “So I wasn’t that concerned about it, other than that it was going to delay everything by another year or so.”
The Supreme Court decided in January to take up the legality of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, as well as similar bans in other states. The Court is likely to rule by June.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) attended Sunday’s gathering to support both the couples that were issued licenses and those still awaiting the ban’s overturn.
“Hopefully the Supreme Court will recognize that it’s peoples’ right to be married without regard to gender and that same-sex marriage will be the law of the land,” Taylor said.
Kestenbaum said he believes the Supreme Court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage, as Justice Anthony Kennedy and other justices have been open to marriage equality in the past.
“I think the Supreme Court decision in June will be very much along the lines of almost all the other federal court rulings on the matter and that this will settle and be done,” he said. “From there, I’m not sure what the next issue is going to be, but I think this is a pretty big one.”
Orr echoed Kestenbaum’s optimism, saying the state will only have true marriage equality once all, not just some, same-sex couples have the opportunity to get married.
“One of the things I say all the time is that for us, we didn’t get marriage equality a year ago,” Orr said. “If we got marriage equality, Sandy and Linda over there would be married as well. We got something that straight couples have already, which is marriage privilege. So what we’re hoping for is a good Supreme Court ruling in June that will give true marriage equality for everyone.”