BY AJ TRAGER
In April 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, on behalf of eight couples that were married on March 22, 2014 during the small window following the Friedman decision in DeBoer v Snyder, filed a lawsuit against the state. The lawsuit argued that the couples are legally married and should be legally recognized in the state, entitled to all of the protections of marriage and that those protections cannot be taken away.
Arguments were heard before Federal Judge Mark A. Goldsmith of the Eastern District of Michigan on Aug. 21, 2014. Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong were the first couple married on March 22 in Ingham county a few minutes before 8 a.m.
“We just want to be treated equally,” DeJong said before the trial in August. “I truly don’t understand people’s rabid resistance to treating each other equally and with respect. We waited 27 years to get married, not by choice, but by exclusion — we simply weren’t allowed to marry.”
“I got up early on Saturday like I normally do and checked my tablet and saw that Barb (Byrum) tweeted that she was going to be open,” DeJong said recounting that historic Saturday morning. “I woke Marsha up, and I’ve never seen her get up so quickly.”
Barb Byrum, the Ingham county clerk and former Michigan House Representative for the 67th District, was restless the night of Friedman’s decision, trying to find a way that she could open her doors.
“I didn’t know how I was going to open the office,” Byrum said. “I couldn’t sleep knowing that so many loving couples had to wait decades to get married and I had to make them wait two more days.”
She texted her staff to see who would want to come in on a Saturday and then went to social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to get the word out that she was going to open.
“My staff all knew that there were many people denied the right to marry the person they love; why would we make them wait a couple more days? Mason is in the rural portion of the county, but we had hundreds of people here. There were so many couples. And my staff were amazing; we were slammed,” Byrum said.
DeJong said that the process of getting married was actually quite confusing. She and Caspar didn’t know the ceremony that was required or just how much paperwork needed to be filled out to complete the process.
“We walked up to the doors and saw a light on in the window. We were the first ones to walk in. She started processing our license. When we were at the window and raised our right hand to take the oath, we could hear behind us a bunch of clicks. I turned around, and it was the press. There were probably 15 people taking photos of us. They told us at that point that we were the first in the state. We looked at each other and were in shock,” Caspar said.
“At one point the celebration sunk in, but then when the stay happened we realized that we had become accidental activists and that we were going to be in the spotlight whether we wanted to or not,” DeJong added.
Mid-November of 2014, Gov. Snyder filed a brief requesting that the marriage licenses be voided due to the 6th Circuit ruling in DeBoer v Snyder earlier that month. However, Goldsmith ruled on Jan. 15 that Michigan must respect the marriages of the 323 same-sex couples that were legally married in the state.
In his ruling, Goldsmith wrote, “The alleged harm of impaired human dignity and denial of at least some tangible benefits have already come about, thereby establishing that the factual record is sufficiently developed, such that there is no need to await future events for adjudication of the issues in this action. And delaying judicial resolution of these issues would serve no useful purpose. To the contrary, such delay would compound the harms these Plaintiffs suffer each day that their marital status remains unrecognized.”
Goldsmith issued a 21 day stay with his decision, allowing for the state to appeal, but Gov. Snyder never issued one. The legal unions of the 323 same-sex couples were to be recognized by the state and start receiving same-sex benefits beginning Feb. 6.
“I can’t wrap my head around hatred in the name of Christianity,” Byrum said. “There was no question in my mind that they were validly issued. I took an oath to uphold the constitution. It’s unfortunate the Michigan Attorney General had to waste so many tax payer dollars fighting marriage equality.”