PONTIAC – While major battles rage over marriage for same-sex couples in Massachusetts and San Francisco, six same-sex couples went to the Oakland County Courthouse on Feb. 13 to ask for marriage licensees in an effort to bring attention to the inequality in Michigan’s marriage laws.
For most people rejection is something to avoid at all costs. For the six couples participating in this year’s Freedom To Marry protest rejection was inevitable. Still they lined up and waited. The protest, organized by Metropolitan Community Church Detroit and Soulforce Detroit, was a part of similar activities taking place across the country as a part of “Freedom to Marry Week” (Feb. 9-15), which is orchestrated by MCC, DontAmend.com and other organizations working towards marriage equality. The Rev. Troy Perry of USMCC began the protest three years ago and has called on same-sex couples to participate each year since.
Rev. Mark Bidwell of MCC in Ferndale went to the county clerk to apply for a marriage license for himself and his partner of four and a half years. Bidwell brought identification for his partner who works in Ann Arbor and could not be there. Only one member of a couple needs to be present to apply for a marriage license in Michigan providing they have proper identification for the other party.
Bidwell’s experience asking the clerk to issue a marriage license to him and his partner was similar to the experience of the other couples applying. “She asked for ID and I presented her with our licenses and when she looked at it and saw it was for two men she said she could not issue us one.” Instead she gave him a photocopy of the language of Michigan’s marriage law.
Linda Spencer and her partner Dawn Bush from Waterford came to the courthouse to ask for a marriage license a month prior to their own ceremony. Spencer had just picked up her wedding dress earlier in the day. “We’re about to have a holy union a month from today and we want it recognized in the state of Michigan,” said Spencer. She feels that her union to Bush deserves as much recognition as any other couple’s marriage. “There are benefits that I feel are my civil rights in this state that are denied,” she said.
Spencer is a member of the Divine Peace Metropolitan Community Church in Clarkston where she is in charge of the prayer ministry and is on the preaching team.
Linda and Cathy Schneider of Ferndale came because they want Michigan to recognize their marriage. They have been together for nine years and first met at Affirmations. “The clerk was polite,” said Schneider. “They just matter of factly told us what the law was and gave us a piece of paper with the statue on it.”
Some of those in attendance were there to simply show support for the couples. The Rev. Paul Whiting from Gainesville, Florida, was visiting Michigan and came to the courthouse with Rev. Bidwell.
Some of the couples brought their children with them to the courthouse. Angela Kurtz and Heidi Barnette from Clarkston brought their 18-month-old son Paul. The women have been together for four years and said they came to the courthouse because they want to get married and complete their family.
Melissa Porritt and Karen Wittbrodt from Waterford came with their four-year-old daughter Emily. Porritt and Wittbrodt have been together for 4 and a half years. They held up the photocopy of the statue the clerk gave them after denying their request for a marriage license. “We’ll just save this for when we get our license,” said Kurtz.
Jennifer and Erin Adriel of Ferndale, co-directors of Soulforce Detroit, organized and participated the event. The women have been together for 16 years and had their holy union in 2000 with the MCC and had a civil marriage in Canada on Aug. 13, 2003.
Jennifer said that she was pleased even though the turn out was not large. “Any time you have a voice whether it’s one voice or many voices you’re successful,” she said. “Being in this community you’d always like the whole LGBT community to say, ‘Okay, let’s go,’ and have huge amounts of people. But the heart and the power of ten can have the same impact and we have to know that and we certainly believe that.”
Jennifer also said that each year she has been pleased with the way they have been treated by the county clerks. “It’s always amazing how the folks at the Oakland County Courthouse treat us and how they tell you no. It could be a ‘No and get out of here’ but instead it’s a ‘No and we’re really sorry and here’s the law and we have to obey the law,'” she said adding that in some cases there’s an unspoken sentiment of ‘We would if we could.’
Unless Michigan starts issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, Jennifer and Erin will be back at the Oakland County Courthouse in Feb. 2005 to do it all over again. “We are going to do this until the laws change. However long it takes,” said Jennifer. “We’re absolutely committed to this.”