When Miriam and Kendra Saperstein exchanged wedding vows before 100 family members and friends at a synagogue in West Bloomfield on June 11, it wasn’t the first time the couple tied the knot.
The Sapersteins originally married last fall in a simple ceremony in Pennsylvania where the two native Michiganders reside while Kendra attends rabbinical school. With the possibility of Obergefell v. Hodges being overturned and same-sex couples losing the ability to marry in the U.S., they decided to act fast.
Introduced by a mutual friend at the Jewish High Holiday services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 2019, the two had another reason for wasting no time: As Kendra aged out of their parents’ health insurance, they wanted Kendra to be covered under Miriam’s employee healthcare plan. Miriam is a writer who works in communications.
“The main concern we had was after Roe was overturned, we were not really sure what was next on the docket for the Supreme Court and wanted to make sure that we were legally married as soon as possible in a state that legalized same-sex marriage,” Kendra said.
In the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, Clarence Thomas expressed interest in revisiting other precedents like Obergefell, alarming marriage equality activists and everyday citizens alike. In Pennsylvania, same-sex marriage became legal in 2014 when a 1996 ban was struck down by a federal judge.
Because of Michigan’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage, the Sapersteins opted to wait until they moved to Philadelphia to make it legal. Nearly 20 years ago, Michiganders voted 59-41 for Prop 2, which amended the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Should Obergefell fall, this currently unenforceable marriage ban would go into effect and same-sex couples could no longer marry in the state. This would create an untenable situation when it comes to things like parental legal rights and healthcare decision-making for ailing partners, among other highly impactful issues.
If he has any say in the matter, Rep. Jason Morgan won’t let that happen. With plans to marry his fiancé in October, the Ann Arbor Democrat has introduced a package of bills that would, among other things, repeal the hateful amendment and replace it with the affirming language of Obergefell, thus codifying marriage equality in the state constitution.
“I’m introducing this package because I am genuinely concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn our right to be married in Michigan,” Morgan said. “And I firmly believe that no couple in our state should have to live with the fear that their marriage could be put in jeopardy.” A similar package was introduced in both 2020 and 2021 by Morgan’s friend and predecessor, Rep. Yousef Rabhi. Because repealing the amendment via a joint resolution requires a two-thirds majority in both House and Senate, Morgan conceded it was a “heavy lift.” Short of that, a ballot proposal could be in the cards.
The other part of Morgan’s initiative is a 51-bill package that would eliminate gendered marital language from all state statutes to reference “spouse and spouse” instead of “husband and wife.” That kind of language appears in everything from tax documents to agricultural laws, laws that were made at a time when legalizing same-sex marriage was unheard of.
Both Sapersteins are trans and use they/them pronouns. Neither is wife nor husband. For their own casual, joking purposes, they’ve come up the endearing term “wifeguy.” “Spouse” sounds too formal, so they’ve opted for “partner.” They both gave thought as to what it means when laws that should apply to you are lacking in representative language.
“I’d feel a little worried just not knowing how that would affect any legal decisions.” Miriam said. “Or it just would make me worried about discrimination that might be still kind of in a gray area.”
Kendra said they feel similarly. It’s not so much being seen by the government; it has more to do with having the right to access whatever they need to in terms of their government-recognized union. “So usually, I think about it in extreme moments, where it’s like, God forbid we should get a divorce,” Kendra said, or if one of them had a life-threatening condition. They want a guarantee as a couple and as individuals they’ll be regarded equally under the law.
With the Democrats having scored a trifecta in the last election for the first time in decades, it’s likely what should have been a no-brainer all along will finally come to fruition. As Rabhi told Pride Source in 2020, “Because this is purely technical in nature, I don’t see any reason why this should not pass.”
Yet Morgan points out that even if the gendered marital language is stripped from state law, should marriage equality fall, it really doesn’t protect the LGBTQ+ community. While important for those who have recognized marriages already, unmarried same-sex partners wishing to marry in Michigan would be out of luck.
“When I first brought this package up a few months ago,” Morgan said, “some folks asked me why it was necessary and said the Supreme Court would never possibly take down the right for gay marriage. But if anybody is watching, they’re trending in that direction. I don’t care how unbelievable somebody thinks it is. I do not believe there’s any limit to how far the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court will go these days to roll America back to the 1950s.”