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Meet The Marriage Equality ‘Poster Children’

By |2015-03-19T09:00:00-04:00March 19th, 2015|Marriage, News|

While not the “famous photo” Paul Mattson and Roland Smith pose at the Oakland County Courthouse March 22, 2014. BTL photo: Andrew Potter

It all happened in a rush. On March 21 of last year, a Friday, Circuit Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman ruled that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. He declined, however, to issue a stay of his ruling pending appeal.
Following the ruling, four of Michigan’s 83 county clerks announced they would open their offices on Saturday, March 22, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette immediately filed an emergency motion with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals requesting a stay of the ruling. Suddenly, the clock was ticking. Same-sex marriage was legal, but that status could change at any minute.
Realizing their window of opportunity might not remain open for long, Roland Smith and Paul Mattson of Farmington Hills, a couple who had been together for six years, sprang into action.
“Roland was actually in New Orleans at the time and that evening, when he got home, we talked about the possibility of getting married on Saturday,” Mattson recalled. “We decided at first we were not going to get married. We were going to get the marriage license and get married later. But once we realized it might be such a short window, we decided to go through with it. We called our pastors on the way and said, ‘Let’s do it.'”
The couple first met at Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, which is actually located in Ferndale. “It wasn’t love at first sight,” Mattson explained with a laugh. “But I think I can safely say that there was a mutual interest. We were both singing in the choir, and we went out a few times with the choir and kind of got to know each other that way. Then our first official date together was March 18 of 2008, and the rest is pretty much history.”
Fast forward to 2014. Mattson and Smith were one of 323 couples who received marriage licenses on March 22 before the 6th Circuit issued an indefinite stay on Friedman’s ruling later that same day. “When we called our ministers, we had originally intended for them to be there just for us,” said Mattson. “But they ended up marrying over 30 couples that day from MCC-Detroit.”
After the ceremony, life initially went on as normal for the couple. The two spent the evening of their wedding visiting Mattson’s aunt in the hospital. Then, on Sunday, they went to church. “They had a nice little celebration that Sunday, a cake and some hor d’oeuvres, and then we went to work Monday,” Smith said. Mattson and Smith thought all the fuss was over. But then came the picture that changed it all.
The couple had been snapped by an Associated Press photographer outside the courthouse. And in no time at all, the photo had gone viral. “I don’t know where it appeared first, but I know that it appeared everywhere from the Huffington Post to the Advocate and the Los Angeles Times,” said Mattson.
“It was also shown on CNN and, locally, on WXYZ,” added Smith. “It’s been repeatedly used for the last year,” Mattson went on. “It’s almost like we’re the marriage equality poster children.”
Suddenly everyone knew that the couple had jumped the broom and the news spread far and wide. “We were flooded with phone calls, cards, well wishes and Facebook messages,” said Mattson. “Being a social worker, I work with families. I don’t hide my sexual orientation, but it’s not something that’s discussed on the job. So when the media got a hold of our story and it got put out there, I knew that some of my families would likely see it.”
Mattson worried he might face a backlash, but that proved not to be the case. “I was amazed at the overwhelming positivity that was displayed toward me,” he said. “There were no negative comments at all from any of the families that I worked with professionally.”
Smith also received his fair share of well wishes on his job. “Going back to my job at the local courthouse, they were overwhelming supportive,” he said. “They just kept calling me. They came down to my office. They were congratulatory. It opened the door on my job for me to speak to some of my co-workers about issues that they were having with some of their family members and loved ones.”
Today, as their first anniversary approaches, Mattson and Smith look back at that photo and feel a multitude of emotions. “For me, the photo is a very personal thing,” said Mattson. “It captures the feeling that permeated throughout the courthouse that day. There was so much joy. Even with the county workers that were there to process all the paperwork, they were just so supportive and happy to be a part of history in the making. So not only did it capture the joy of us as a couple, but it also captured the joy of so many others, too.”
Smith concurred. “There is just no way that I could possibly put into words the support and the elation that was felt that day at the Oakland County courthouse,” he said. “It was like this is the way I envisioned the world to be… totally supportive.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael has been with Pride Source since 1999 and is currently senior staff writer. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.
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