BY AJ TRAGER
LANSING – Just before 11 a.m. on June 26, 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision on Obergefell v. Hodges and extended marriage equality to the entire country. Since that moment thousands of LGBT couples across the country have upgraded their domestic partnership and or commitment ceremony plans to wedding cakes and marriage licenses.
Ron Napier, from Lansing, and Andy Soya, from Hastings, are not self described wedding people; however, when the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality came down, Napier found himself on the brink of tears as he realized that he could now marry the man of his dreams.
Napier and Soya met on Myspace in 2008. They took some time to get to know one another and spent many hours chatting online. Eventually they met in person and started dating. Napier knew on the first date that Soya was special after he received a box of homemade baked goods that Soya crafted himself, but he made sure to play hard to get.
"I fell for him pretty hard and fast," Napier said to BTL, remembering the first gift he received from his chef.
Napier and Soya love going on what they call adventures, or events that enhance their lives, such as switching their diet to vegan or tightening up their core with meditation. For their wedding they wanted to do something a little more robust and as politically minded people they sought out a way to make their wedding more special and meaningful.
"The day that we were able to get married, when that decision came down, I was so emotional because I had never thought that we would be able to get married. I knew in the back of my mind that we could get a committment ceremony or a civil union. But it wasn't the real thing," Napier said. "We weren't big wedding people. We wanted our wedding to show equality and justice and we wanted to get the (Michigan) government involved – for the symbolism."
A few months after the marriage equality decision Napier sent a letter to Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and asked if she would officiate their wedding.
"I thought how great would it be that – at one time that the state of MI said 'you (LGBT) cannot get married…' – how great would it be if a justice on the highest court of Michigan would marry us," Napier said
Napier and Soya followed her 2012 campaign closely and knew that the justice was in favor of marriage equality. Napier was unsure whether the Judge would want to get involved in such a political matter so quickly after the historic SCOTUS decision, but McCormack agreed to officiate their wedding and said she would be honored to do so.
"I was so moved by the request but said I'd like to know more about them, to have a more personal connection. I had dinner with them in Grand Rapids and from there we developed a friendship. By the time I did the wedding I knew them very well," McCormack told BTL.
After meeting McCormack and establishing a more personal understanding of her, Soya and Napier were pleased to see that she is an advocate for equal rights and that she "walks the walk and talked the talk." McCormack had strong support from the LGBT community during her campaign and had strong endorsements from the LGBT community.
"I assume that's part of why they reached out to me," she said.
Soya and Napier were the first same-sex couple to be married by a Michigan Supreme Court justice. They were also the first couple to be married by McCormack in her Supreme Court chambers.
"We had to get a special order (to perform the wedding). You have to be designated as a probate judge to perform the ceremony," McCormack said.
The couple worked with McCormack's assistant to determine the verbiage for the ceremony. They wanted to make sure to get across that had same-sex marriage been available prior to the end of June last year they would've married sooner.
On June 10, Napier, Soya, McCormack, Derek Cookson – their photographer – and a handful of close family members joined at the Michigan Hall of Justice and were led into McCormack's private chambers. During the ceremony the Justice read an important excerpt from the Obergefell decision authored by Justice Kennedy as well as a quote from President Obama.
"Obama said in his last sentence that 'we are all created equally.' It's important to us that the government was a part of our ceremony to show our struggle," Soya said.
Soya and Napier wore matching Kenneth Cole blue suits and with different colored bow ties. Soya wore orange and Napier wore blue.
"It was a moving experience. In large part thanks to their family," McCormack said. "Andy's mom and dad read some of the sweetest most heartfelt thoughts to both of them. You'd be blown away at any wedding. Ron in particular has had trouble with his family and finding support. I was blown away by both of their statements. She addressed each one of them personally and how they loved one another. It was very moving."
Soya's grandparents attended the wedding as did some of his family that stems from small town Michigan. He says that they're proud and happy that their grandson has found a happy relationship.
"Andy and Ron's vows to each other were very moving, very thoughtful and very personable. I felt lucky to be included," McCormack said.
Everyone asks, after a marriage, if the couple feels any different or if anything had changed since tying the knot.
"Ron has changed my life in so many ways," Soya told BTL near the end of the interview just after discussing honeymoon plans. Next year they plan on taking a romantic trip up to Portland, Ore. to share in a hiking trip that will amplify their mindfulness and appreciation for the beauties of the world.
"I feel validated," Napier said. "When we went to pick up our marriage license I felt validated. It feels pretty good to be treated equally."