In a victory for marriage equality, a federal judge ruled on January 15, 2015 that the state of Michigan must recognize the legal marriages of 300 same-sex couples who were wed in March after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on marriage equality and before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals put the decision on hold.
A lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of eight couples who wed immediately after a federal decision struck down the state’s ban on marriage equality and before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision against the ban.
At the time these couples got married, the marriage ban in Michigan had been struck down in the DeBoer ruling, and it was legal under Michigan law for them to wed. Although the Sixth Circuit subsequently reversed the favorable DeBoer ruling and Supreme Court review was being sought in that case, the ACLU lawsuit sought permanent recognition of the 300 marriages no matter what happened in the DeBoer case. The ACLU contended, and the court agreed, that the state cannot “undo” these legal marriages after they have taken place.
The couples were represented by ACLU attorneys Jay Kaplan, Michael J. Steinberg, Dan Korobkin, Brooke Tucker, Kary Moss and John Knight as well as ACLU cooperating attorneys Julian Mortenson, who argued the preliminary injunction motion, and Andrew Nickelhoff.
Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar
Clint McCormack and Bryan Reamer
Bianca Racine and Carrie Miller
Samantha Wolf and Martha Rutledge
James Anteau and Jared Haddock
Kelly Callison and Anne Callison
Martin Contreras and Keith Orr
Frank Colasonti, Jr. and James Barclay Ryder
We are just like any other couple who've been together for 27 years. The only difference is that other couples don’t have to jump through these hoops and become activists just to be with the person they love.
After twenty-seven years together, Glenna and Marsha became the first same-sex couple to be married in Michigan.
"The night before, we weren't sure our county clerk was going to be open for marriages," Glenna says. "At 6:40 a.m., I saw that they were going to be open. I woke Marsha up and I've never seen her get up so fast. Within three minutes, we were out the door."
When we heard that there was a possibility that we could be legally married," Marsha says, "it was a done deal. We didn't even have to discuss it."
The pair had spoken about marriage before, but didn't want to leave the state. The couple was shocked by the announcement that their marriage would not be recognized by Michigan.
"I don't understand the resistance to recognizing our marriage legally," Glenna says. "After we were in the news, strangers would come up and congratulate us on the street. We haven't had one person approach us and be negative."
Marsha nods, echoing her partner. "The numbers are astounding in terms of support for marriage equality. The dominos across the country are falling. That's our future and our state is just being so backwards."
"It's stressful not knowing and it’s stressful to have to fight so hard for something that seems so simple," Glenna says. "Other married couples don’t have to jump through these hoops and become activists just to be with the person they love. That's all we want."
If we didn't stand up for our kids' rights to have both their dads recognized, how could we sleep at night?
"We met in the summer of 1993. I went over to a friend's house to visit and there he was, says Clint. "We hit it off immediately, and we've been together ever since. Twenty-two years now!"
Clint and Bryan are currently caring for 13 children. While Clint says the couple didn't expect to have such a large family, "we kept finding room in our hearts for more. Now we have a full, loving house with amazing children. I can't imagine our life without them."
Some of the children were jointly adopted when the couple lived in New Jersey. But four of the children were adopted in Michigan, where they were unable to obtain a second-parent adoption. Only one of the men is recognized as the legal parent of these children.
It is important to Clint and Bryan that they jointly adopt these children so they will both be recognized as their legal parents.
"Stability is a huge issue for our children. Legally, we're not a whole family, says Clint. "When our fifteen year-old son Keegan realized that both his dads weren't legal, he felt like the rug was pulled out from under him. The distress he felt... it was like the state was punishing my child and I couldn't do anything about it."
"To put children through this kind of stress is inexcusable and unforgivable. How do I explain this discrimination to my 5 year-old? Or my eight year-old? I don't want to see the pain in their faces that I saw in Keegan's."
Clint and Bryan's top priority is giving their children the safety and security other Michigan families have. "When we were considering joining this legal challenge after we realized our marriage wasn't going to be recognized as legal, we called a family meeting to talk about it. All kids said they'd pull together so we could fight, not just for our family but for all the families like ours."
Every day for three years, I've asked her to marry me. That Saturday, she could finally smile, say "yes," and head to the clerk's office.
Three years ago, Bianca was tired and feverish. Carrie, her partner, made her soup and covered her with a blanket. Half-asleep, Bianca murmured, "you'd make an amazing wife."
"We laughed about it," Bianca says, "but every morning for three years, I've asked her to marry me. On that Saturday after the Judge’s ruling, I saw that the county clerk was going to be open and I jumped out of bed. I said 'Good morning, let's get married. I've been asking you every day. Let's get married.' She just said 'Can I eat breakfast first?' That's the kind of woman she is."
Bianca is in the National Guard and was stationed in Kosovo. However, Carrie will not be recognized as her spouse by the state Veterans Affairs agencies.
"It's crazy because Carrie is the strongest example of a military wife I've ever seen," says Bianca. "She is there through thick and thin. She is a rock."
When the couple heard that their marriage wasn’t going to be recognized by the state, "a weight was put back on our shoulders," Bianca says.
"A lot of my battle buddies called me when they heard we got married, teasing us about when we were having kids," says Bianca. "We’d love to have a child but we're afraid to, since we couldn't give them the legal protection of both parents. I don't want to put my partner in a vulnerable position if something happened to me."
"We just wanted to get married. We didn't think any of this was going to happen, but we're proud to fight for familes like ours."
We were so excited when we got married, and it felt like such a blow to have that taken away so soon.
On New Year’s Eve 2011, Samantha and Martha ran into each other again at a party. The two had known each other for a few years, but this time it was different.
"We both knew we were in love," says Martha. "It was unexpected but it felt clear and certain to both of us. We had a ceremony in 2013 with friends and family and our spiritual community, but it wasn't legal or recognized by the state."
The couple followed the DeBoer case closely, checking every few days to see if there was a chance they could be legally married.
"That Saturday, our maid of honor called us at 7 a.m. to wake us up and tell us we could get married, says Martha. "Afterwards, we had a big breakfast celebration with our friends and my daughter. We were so excited when we got married, but it felt like such a blow to have that taken away so soon. It was devastating to hear that our legal relationship isn’t being recognized."
The fact that the couple's marriage isn’t being recognized shocks everyone who congratulates them.
"I’ve realized that a lot of people just don't realize how much this lack of legal recognition impacts every aspect of our lives," Martha says. "Simple things people take for granted, like changing our last names, requires expensive legal paperwork. Insurance, doctor visits, preparing living wills... these small discriminations add up to a ton of stress on our lives."
"I know that change is happening in our state and in our nation. But now's the time, Martha says. "It takes time to turn coal into diamonds, but I'm ready for the diamond soon."
To our minds, we've been committed for the last 16 years. When we could get married, we thought “Now it legally means something!”
"We met when we moved into the same apartment complex," Jared says, "It’s been 16 years now!"
Jared and Jim had spoken about getting married, but "we were never sure it could happen in Michigan," Jim says. "When we could get married, we thought 'Now it legally means something!' It was the natural thing to do."
Although they knew that their marriage would face challenges, the couple were saddened to hear that their marriage wasn't going to be recognized.
"From a personal standpoint, I became a lawyer to stand for justice so to see the law and the Constitution trampled on in this way is a slap in the face," says Jared. "It's trying to take away the legitimacy from something that seems very clear and is very important to me."
My wife and I work hard to provide for our family just like any other parents. But unlike other couples, we have all these added expenses and hurdles just to be able to care for our son and each other.
"Anne and I met about 5 years ago. It was an instant this-is-it moment," says Kelly. "We decided to have our son Corbin 5 years in."
The couple had thought about marriage before, not only to show their love but also to provide the legal protection of both parents to their son. ""Because we weren't able to jointly adopt in Michigan," Kelly explains, "we have had to draw up complicated paperwork to allow me to do simple things like pick my own son up from daycare or the doctor."
Kelly and Anne were both taken aback and shocked by that the state wouldn’t recognize their marriage. "It sends a crazy message to young people and families like ours that our family isn't the same. This uncertainty puts so much stress on any relationship, especially with a young child."
"From mortgages to wills to insurance, we are constantly reminded that we're treated differently," Kelly says. "Our situation is uncertain, and so much control of our lives is put in the hands of other people. It feels like we constantly have to prepare for the worst. This is my wife and my son. it's frightening to think that the opinions of a few strangers could separate us."
Staples of the Ann Arbor LGBT community and co-owners of the Aut Bar, Martin and Keith have been together for 28 years.
Not only were the two overjoyed to be able to marry their partner, the couple worked with local activists to advocate with the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office to be opened to issue marriage licenses as soon as the court verdict came down. They were the fifth couple in line to be married.
The couple has seen a lot of change in Michigan already, but they worry that the state will interfere with their ability to be recognized as legal spouses for purposes of state income taxes, as well as their health insurance.
Twenty-six years ago, Frank and James met in church and have been together ever since.
After a long career working in the Birmingham Public School District, Frank wants to ensure that his partner is provided for if anything should happen to him.
Since Michigan is refusing to respect their marriage, Frank is unable to adjust his pension plan to provide Jim with continued survivor’s benefits and health care in the event of Frank’s death.