ADRIAN, MICHIGAN — Patch Harrison and Jessi Fox are in love. If, sometime this month, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that marriage rights should be extended to same-sex couples in the nation, the couple wants to get married.
“We were discussing how history will be made that day, and both decided that we’d like to be part of that,” Harrison, 27, told BTL this week in a Facebook chat interview. “Through mutual conversation, we decided we should just get married, and, ‘Why wait?’ We went to the jewelry store and there just happened to be a ring that she loved in her size. So, I bought it for her.”
That happened June 13. On June 15, the newly engaged couple, excited about their pending nuptials, called the offices of Hillsdale County Clerk Marney Kast. That’s when elation turned to frustration as they realized that while marriage equality may be right around the corner, some government agencies may use bureaucratic wrangling to delay implementing the court’s decision.
“I stated that I was calling to find out if there was a plan in place for when the U.S. Supreme Court issues their ruling on same-sex marriage,” Harrison said. “I wanted to know if I would be able to apply for my marriage license that day. The lady then told me that she would follow the law, and when she took an oath, she took it to follow the laws. I again asked her if there would be any issues with applying for and getting a marriage license on the day the ruling is made. She told me should wait for the proper paperwork and forms to be in place, and that she would also wait for a direct order from the state of Michigan. She also told me that while she doesn’t agree with it, or support that in any way, she will follow the laws.”
Harrison said the unidentified clerk’s official would not provide any answer as to whether or not she and Fox, 23, would have be able to get their marriage license the day of the ruling.
Kast declined to answer specific questions from BTL.
“I am President of the Michigan Association of County Clerks and we are in constant contact with the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Lansing and will follow the law accordingly,” Kast wrote in an email to BTL. “This is the only statement I am prepared to give at this time.”
How quickly county clerks will be able to implement a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court is unclear. State officials tell BTL that the necessary new forms and policies are stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire and in, some instances, a holding pattern.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (the newly combined departments of human services and community health) oversees marriages and deaths through the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The agency creates the standard forms for birth, death and marriage records used throughout the state.
Despite marriage equality being on the radar screen for years, Jennifer Smith, a spokesperson for DHHS, said the agency has a new form draft prepared, but is awaiting a final ruling from the Supreme Court until an official from the Office of the Attorney General signs off on it.
Gisgie Davila Gendreau, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said that agency, which oversees issuance of driver’s licenses and car registration to reflect new marriages, has no draft policies prepared for a ruling supporting nationwide marriage equality.
“Not knowing how the court will rule, we’re not in a position to answer hypothetical questions,” Gendreau wrote to BTL in an email responding to questions about ruling preparations by the agency. “What I can tell you is that the Michigan Department of State will continue to follow the law. We don’t have any policy drafts because we’re awaiting the court’s ruling. As for current policy, staff follows current law, which allows a name change when a customer presents a valid marriage license.”
While state officials scramble to prepare forms and implement new policies in the event of a ruling that changes Michigan’s law, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum — one of four county clerks in the state to conduct more than 300 same-sex marriages during a brief 24 hour period in March 2014 when same-sex marriage was legal — said she is ready to roll with the forms she has on hand.
“If (the state) isn’t prepared to follow the law, I certainly will be,” she said. She noted that the state had not issued new license applications in March 2014, but the marriages performed in a short window that month were deemed legal by the state. While those marriage were deemed legal, Gov. Rick Snyder said they would not be recognized. A federal court has ruled the state must recognize those marriages, and the state has not appealed that decision.
Byrum said she is also planning to waive the three day waiting period for same-sex marriages.
“In this case, I know so many couples have waited decades to get married,” she said. “I see no reason to make them wait three more days.”
She said she is not holding her breath for Bill Schuette, the state’s Republican Attorney General and a likely 2018 GOP candidate for governor, to move swiftly in issuing policy guidance to clerks and state offices.
“I believe the attorney general is not in support of love and loving couples, and he has a history of bullying local clerks,” Byrum said in a phone interview. “I won’t be looking for guidance from him.”