DETROIT – The discriminatory consequences of Gov. Rick Snyder's actions were recounted through the lives of eight Michigan same-sex couples during an emotional press conference Monday. The ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit, Caspar v Snyder, on behalf of the couples, who where legally married on March 22, after U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman ruled the ban prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was unconstitutional. The opportunity to marry was short-lived and took place in just four Michigan counties that opened on a Saturday, before a stay pursued by Attorney General Bill Schuette was issued preventing more same sex couples from marrying.
ACLU Attorney Jay Kaplan was emphatic in his opening remarks saying, "Gov. Snyder's hands were not tied as he has repeatedly stated. All through this process he had a choice just like governors in California, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia who recognize that marriage is a matter of fundamental freedoms, economic security and family values. Gov. Snyder could have chosen not to defend the state ban on same sex couples marrying. He, like the attorney general, did not have to appeal the DeBoer decision and like U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, he could have stated that all those married under Michigan law would be afforded full recognition and benefits. Instead he failed to take into account the hundreds of couples – real people and real families – that have been negatively impacted by this decision."
The ACLU is seeking a declaratory judgment that Gov. Snyder's failure to recognize these legally married same sex couples with the benefits and recognition afforded opposite sex couples "violates their equal protection rights under the 14th amendment of our Constitution, as well as violates their right to due process," Kaplan said. The ACLU is also seeking a preliminary injunction requesting that the court order the state to stop denying these couples recognition and benefits.
Plaintiffs and family members spoke about the lack of respect and disappointment they felt when Gov. Snyder described their marriages as legal, yet would not allow the state to recognize the over 300 marriages that took place.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Marsha Caspar, addresses the idea that couples "rushed" to marry, noting that waiting 27 years did not compute with rushing.
Glenna Dejong and Marsha Casper were the first couple to be legally wed when the Ingham County Clerk's offices opened at 8 a.m. March 22.
"After 27 years of waiting, on Saturday March 22 Glenna and I were the first couple to be married in Michigan. In all, over 300 couples across Michigan were married that historic day. But now we must wait again. We were stunned when we heard the state was trying to make a distinction where there is no difference. It was declared that we are legally married but cannot reap the benefits and protections of our marriage," said Casper who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Dejong described how the federal government was recognizing their marriage but "sadly Michigan was not" adding, "it's unacceptable that our own state continues to resist treating our family equally and with respect."
Clint McCormack and his partner Bryan Reamer have been together for 21 years and are raising 13 children. They jointly adopted nine of the children while they lived in New Jersey; however the remaining four were adopted in Michigan and in accordance with state law can only be adopted by one of them. McCormack, in a very emotional and teary statement, described how upset one of their sons became when he found out one of them was not his legal parent. "When our fifteen year old son Keegan realized that both of his dads were not legally recognized he felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath him. The distress that he felt was so hard to watch. It was like the state was punishing my child and for what?"
McCormack described what it was like to learn that the state was refusing to recognize their legally performed marriage.
"After we realized that our marriage was not going to be recognized, my partner and I began considering joining this legal challenge. Our children are our first priority. So we called a family meeting and we talked about it. All of our children said they wanted us to fight, not just for our family, but for all the families like ours. That's why we are here today."
Keegan McCormack, 15, center, describes how difficult it has been to experience the discrimination his loving family has gone through. With his brother Seth, 19, at his side and his father Clint McCormack behind him holding his 8 year old brother Hayden.
McCormack had three of his children by his side at Monday's press conference and Keegan, his 15 year-old said, "I hate the thought that the law doesn't see us as a whole family. When my dads got married I was really happy for them cause they finally got what was theirs."
In addressing a question about whether couples had "rushed" to marry knowing the state intended to appeal the decision Kaplan said, "Many of these couples have been waiting decades for the opportunity to marry. And when the DeBoer decision came down it was a wonderful day and something that had been anticipated for a long time, so if they were able to marry why wouldn't these couples go down as soon as the county clerk's office was open and solemnize their vow? This wasn't done on a whim – it was thought out for many years."
Then Casper pointed out, "We were going to take the opportunity to get married whether there was a one hour window or ten hour window or a lifetime window. We actually had a marriage license already filled out and we were waiting."
Keith Orr and Martin Contreras also had their marriage application filled out and where just waiting for the opportunity to legally marry. "One of the things I said about this after 27 years of dating, it did feel a little bit like a shotgun wedding …But indeed it was not a shotgun wedding because there was no secondary pressure out there, but indeed there had been 27 years of waiting." The two men are well known in the Ann Arbor community as owners of the popular aut Bar and Common Language Bookstore.
When asked about Attorney General Schutte's claims of protecting the people of Michigan, Orr said, "It seems to me that Schuette is picking and choosing who he wants to protect. He certainly is not working on protecting the families in the 322 marriages that took place along with all of the other couples who would like to get married."
Some of the couples spoke about the discriminatory consequences Snyder's decision has had by not granting them the full legal recognition their marriage should provide.
Frank Colasonti, Jr. married his husband, James Ryder. They were the first couple in Oakland County to be married by County Clerk Lisa Brown, arriving at the courthouse at 6 a.m. March 22 waiting for the doors to open. Colasonti, a retired school counselor, wants to insure that Ryder is properly provided for under his state pension if Colasonti should pass away before him. Under the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System, the state of Michigan's Office of Retirement Services allows newly married retirees to adjust their pension disbursements to a lower monthly amount received in order to preserve future pension payments and health benefits for a surviving spouse. This option is available only for legally married spouses, and it must be exercised within one year of marriage. An internal memo issued by ORS staff says that unless Gov. Snyder changes his position, they can only recognize marriages between one man and one woman.
"I am very frustrated because I believe that I spent 30 years putting into the retirement system and that other couples – heterosexual couples – can then pass some of that money on to their spouses and I could not. I am no different or worth any less than any of the other employees of the retirement system," said Colasonti.
Samantha Wolf who works for the Michigan Department of Community Health would like to have her wife, Martha Rutledge, covered as her spouse under her health insurance policy so that she can get far more comprehensive coverage for an ongoing injury sustained from a car accident.
"I went to work and asked to sign my legal wife up for benefits – health, dental and vision. While I originally was told that I could sign her up by someone on the phone, a supervisor came over later and said that given Gov. Snyder's position that the legal marriages are legal except for legal rights – that I could not sign my wife up for insurance benefits."
Other plaintiffs include Bianca Racine, a member of the National Guard who served for two years in Kosovo, and wants to ensure that her wife is eligible for Michigan veteran funded services programs; Jim Anteau and Jared Haddock who have been together for 16 years and want to insure that Jared can be covered as his spouse by Jim's employer; and Kelly and Anne Callison who have been together for five years and want to insure that their son, who they have raised together, have the legal protection of both parents.
Asked about any legal precedents, Kaplan pointed to Utah where same sex couples find themselves in a similar situation as couples here in Michigan. For several weeks, earlier this year, after Utah struck down its ban on same sex marriage without issuing a stay, over 1,300 couples married. After the stay was issued the Governor of Utah said he would not recognize the marriages that had been legally performed.
"I think as a principle, the law was that same-sex couples could marry and when the stay was put in effect – even if that is viewed as the law changing – it doesn't retroactively void the marriages that took place," said Kaplan.
In a few weeks the ACLU of Michigan will file the preliminary injunction and the state has 21 days to respond. The ACLU will issue its response to the state and the court will then set a hearing date. The ACLU will request the earliest possible date, "because this discriminatory action of the governor is having very real effects on all of our clients," said ACLU attorney Michael Steinberg.