ANN ARBOR – An ebullient crowd gathered in Braun Court to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on same-sex marriage June 26. The Jim Toy Community Center organized the rally on the evening that the court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and effectively made California the 13th state to allow same-sex marriage.
“This is not just a great day for LGBT people, but for everyone,” said Circuit Court Judge Carol Kuhnke, the first openly lesbian judge in Michigan. “When we give equal rights to people the whole society benefits.”
JTCC president Sandi Smith emceed a speakers’ program that included activists, politicians, religious leaders and one enchanting little girl who announced to the crowd, “I have a rainbow cake and you can come to my table if you want some.”
“We are climbing the mountain together, and I look forward to seeing you all at the day of complete equality,” said an emotional Jim Toy. In 1972, Toy founded what is now the Spectrum Center at the University of Michigan, the nation’s first university-based LGBT student center.
Mary Meernick and Jan McWethy came to celebrate the rulings and their 33rd anniversary as well. McWethy, who is a nurse at the UofM Hospital said, “It’s fabulous! I kept running into the patient area to watch CNN coverage. It is so exciting.”
People were buzzing about the impact the Supreme Court rulings might have on another court case much closer to home. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman is set to rule soon on the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage in the DeBoer/Rowse case, which challenges Michigan’s ban on two same-gender, unmarried people adopting and marrying. If Judge Friedman declares the marriage ban unconstitutional, Larry Kestembaum, Washtenaw county clerk said he will be ready to immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I will waive the mandatory three day waiting period to marry people right after Judge Friedman’s decision,” said Kestembaum. Volunteers handed out marriage applications and an instruction sheet that called on couples to bring all the necessary documents to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office at 2 p.m. on the day Friedman announces his decision. “We will marry as many people as we can, as fast as we can,” he said.
“When we get that window, we’ll get married,” said Meernick who is a retired librarian. “We’ve even talked about maybe moving to Maryland because we can get married there now.”
An especially moving moment came when Marge Eide and Ann Sorrell came to the microphone. Both 76 years old, they have been together 40 years. “This is an amazing day,” said Eide. “Back when we were young the only place you could meet other women like us was on the sports field. We became very good athletes,” she joked. They each received a long stem red rose and beamed happily throughout the evening event.
Although the rulings were hailed as a major victory, many speakers said there is still much work to do here in Michigan.
“We know there’s a lot of work to do in Michigan,” said aut Bar owner Keith Orr. “The rulings today don’t change much for us in Michigan, but it opens the door for tremendous changes.”
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Andrea Ernst of MI Love, a grassroots group that formed to fight for marriage rights in Michigan. “But there is still a lot of work to do. There will be a lot of confusion about the rulings, and many legal ambiguities, some of which we may be able to use to our advantage.”
For example, the repeal of DOMA raises some murky legal questions pertaining to immigrant rights. “I think, based on the DOMA ruling, that if you are a couple from another country and you are validly married, then you should be able to file a joint tax return,” said Fran Stacey, and immigration attorney in Ann Arbor. “If the IRS says no, then send that couple to me!”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) and three other legislators will introduce a legislative package to legalize marriage equality in Michigan. He said he is excited about the Supreme Court rulings and that it signals an important shift in the political debate. Irwin encouraged the crowd to get involved in changing Michigan’s legal landscape.
“We’ve heard people tell us that we won’t win,” Irwin told BTL. “But I think something unexpected could happen. Republicans are rethinking their opposition to marriage equality. And when we introduce the legislation Republicans might squash it – yes – but then we can say ‘at least we asked and you said no.’ This will change in Michigan – it is just a matter of time.”