We often joke that we’re accidental activists. Marsha and I were the first same-sex couple to be married in Michigan on March 22.
Our joy turned to sadness when Governor Snyder declared that we, and over 300 other couples married that historic day, are legally married but cannot reap the benefits of marriage. The State is not recognizing our marriages.
Fast forward five months. We left at 6 a.m. – destination, a federal courthouse in Detroit. We were driving to a hearing, led by the ACLU of Michigan, to ask a judge to force the state to recognize our marriages as a matter of law and fundamental fairness. It was a mixture of excitement and anxiety for us.
After all, there’s a lot hanging in the balance for us and our fellow newlyweds – basic dignity and respect, paternal rights of parents, protection of children should one parent die, pensions and survivor benefits, health insurance, etc.
The matter of fundamental dignity and respect hit home immediately. When the State’s attorneys presented why we shouldn't get the benefits of marriage and why they don't think what they are doing is causing any harm, I broke down in tears. This basic emotional reaction came fast and hard. Experiencing lack of respect isn’t something new, but it’s usually more subtle. Their overt articulation of disrespect and quite frankly, discrimination, was jarring.
We did not create the situation of having to take the State to court, as they claim, by getting married on March 22. We waited 27 years to get married, not by choice, but by exclusion – we simply weren’t allowed to marry. This exclusion was formalized in 2004 when the voters of Michigan passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Judge Friedman stuck down that ban as unconstitutional on March 21. Fundamental rights cannot be trumped by the vote of a majority, especially a majority that no longer exists.
So, we had the opportunity, as did couples in four Michigan counties that we had long been waiting for. It was not a rush to marry; for us it was something that was a long time in the making.
What we are asking for is simple − to be treated equally.
We don’t want special rights, just the same rights afforded to other married couples. Being legally married and receiving the benefits and protections of marriage are not, and cannot be, mutually exclusive.
But by making that distinction, the State has caused us to challenge them in court. Doesn’t the State have better ways to spend their time and taxpayer dollars, like creating jobs and retaining productive citizens within our borders?
I want to thank the ACLU for taking the lead on this case and for sticking up for the rights of minorities. The bottom line in all of this – we are legally married and the State simply cannot mandatorily divorce us.
Guest post from Glenna DeJong, client in Caspar v. Snyder