Snyder: Michigan Will Recognize 300 Same-Sex Marriages

BY AJ TRAGER

LANSING - Gov. Snyder issued a surprise statement Wednesday, a day earlier than the 5 p.m., Feb. 5 deadline he had to order an appeal of the decision by a federal district judge that recognized the validity of the 323 same-sex couples married in three counties on March 22, 2014.

It was an appeal that many members of the LGBT community had expected Snyder would likely issue, including plaintiff couples from the Caspar v Snyder case. But the day before deadline, the Governor issued a statement that the marriages would in fact be legally recognized by the state.

"The judge has determined that same-sex couples were legally married on that day, and we will follow the law and extend state marriage benefits to those couples," Snyder said in the statement and that the state offices would not pursue an appeal.

"I appreciate that the larger question will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court this year," Snyder continued. "This is an issue that has been divisive across our country. Our nation's highest court will decide this issue. I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and it's vitally important for an expedient resolution that will allow people in Michigan, as well as other states, to move forward together on the other challenges we face."

Arguments for the Caspar v Snyder case were heard in August 2014 before Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010 to represent the Eastern District of Michigan. The judge issued his decision on Jan. 15, saying the state must recognize those marriages performed on March 22, 2014 and gave Snyder 21 days to file his appeal. Goldsmith added that the state will have to recognize these marriages even if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Michigan's same-sex marriage ban later this year.

In the wake of the DeBoer v Snyder ruling issued by Federal Judge Bernard Friedman on March 21, 2014 declaring the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, courthouses from Oakland, Washtenaw and Ingham counties opened up their doors on a Saturday to legally marry over 300 same-sex couples before Friedman's decision was stayed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals late the same day, preventing any more marriage licenses from being issued. This created legal limbo for loving couples unsure if their new state's marriage rights would be recognized, effectively ignoring equal treatment under the law.

The 2004 voter approved Michigan Marriage Amendment(MMA), denying marriage rights to same-sex loving couples, was cited as the rationale for the state of Michigan not recognizing the same-sex marriages performed on March 22, 2014. In April 2014 eight couples, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the state arguing that because the couples are legally married, they are entitled to all of the protections of marriage and that those protections cannot be taken away.

"We're thankful that the state finally has made the wise choice to acknowledge the vows that these couples made and to recognize the love that these families share," Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project said. "These marriages were performed at a time when marriage equality was legal. We're elated that, with the recognition of their marriages, these couples no longer have to live under a dark cloud of confusion and uncertainty."

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) applauded the Governor's decision saying, "I am glad that the governor has decided not to waste any more taxpayer money on a misguided crusade to discriminate against these 300 families. Michigan should be supporting families, not trying to tear them apart. That is why the governor's decision is only a first step. He should stop defending Michigan's marriage ban at the Supreme Court, before he puts our state on the wrong the side of history."

Lisa Brown, Oakland County clerk and Barb Byrum, Ingham County clerk, were two of the three county clerks who opened their doors to marry couples.

"I am so glad that we opened the Oakland County Clerk's Office on that historic Saturday so that the more than 130 loving, committed couples married in Oakland County that day can have the protection guaranteed to every other married couple in Michigan," Brown said. "It's a shame that it took nearly a year for their marriages to be legally recognized by the state. The important thing is to not give up the fight."

Many of the over 300 couples had been together for over 20 years when they finally had the chance to legally marry in the state that they call home. For some a shotgun wedding at the strike of a judge's javelin is not what many would have in mind for their big day. But for couples waiting years to legally affirm their love, it was the chance of a lifetime.

"I knew I was doing the right thing," Byrum said. "Many of the couples I married that day had been together for decades. They had waited long enough."

James Ryder and Frank Colasonti Jr. were the first couple married in Oakland County and are one of the eight plaintiff couples. Without being legally married access to a shared pension, joint health care and state hospital rights, the couple was extremely concerned with how their finances and investments were going to pan out once they reached retirement age.

"It was pure Michigan politics, this was the third strike and he was out on this issue," Colasonti said. "We'd like to think it was a simple matter of justice to grant us this recognition."

"I really figured it was going to end up back at SCOTUS to be honest with you," Ryder said. "I didn't have a lot of faith in the 6th Circuit Court, I mean it would've gone back to them first but I didn't have a lot of faith that they are going to rule on the right side of history."

"But Jim and I are just floating on air," Colasonti added. "It's almost as if we were remarried. We had the same feeling we had when we got married last year and it feels like that all over again. We are very appreciative of the ACLU for taking us as one of the plaintiffs in the case. They did a great job presenting the case."

Former president of the Michigan chapter of the American Family Association and newly elected member of the state house Gary Glenn, R-Midland, was one of the authors of the 2004 Michigan Marriage Amendment. Now in a position to create and influence state law, Glenn is expected to work against any efforts made in favor of LGBT rights and inclusions and continue his crusade supporting the harm toward LGBT families.

"I think it's a sad commentary on the state of the modern judiciary when something that is the subject of law is illegal one day, then for 12 hours it's supposedly legal, then it's illegal again," Glenn said. "I think that kind of confusion breeds disrespect for the law."

Glenn said he believes Michigan voters, not judges, should be allowed to decide if same-sex marriage is a good idea or not. He said he supports the will of the 2.7 million voters who, back in 2004, decided that marriage in Michigan should be defined only as a union between one woman and one man.

House Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, who joined the State House this term along Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) as one of two openly gay members of the state legislature. Moss, who was very active in his role as a Southfield City Commissioner before taking elected office in Lansing, was present for the marriage of two friends who were among the over 300 married.

"Their long-term commitment to one another is no different than any other marriage recognized by the state. I'm pleased that Gov. Rick Snyder has decided not to challenge Judge Mark A. Goldsmith's ruling, which validates their marriage in the eyes of the state," Moss said. "Gov. Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, however, should not have challenged Judge Bernard Friedman's initial ruling striking down Michigan's ban on marriage equality. I'm hopeful that this long legal battle will soon end and the U.S. Supreme Court will allow gay and lesbian couples to live their lives with the same protections as heterosexual couples."

With the announcement of the Caspar decision, Michigan now waits for the hearing before the Supreme Court of the United States as it joins with Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee to argue the constitutionality of allowing for same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriage in April.

"It is odd the way they announced it," Keith Orr, one of the plaintiffs in the case said. "It almost makes him sound like he is taking credit for it. Snyder, we are suing you - and we just won, you lost." Orr said adding, "One of the great things about it (Goldsmith's ruling) is the state now has to cope with marriage equality even if it is a small number. Whether it is the Secretary of State or their Human Resources folks, all those departments now have to deal with marriage equality; which hopefully come the end of June, SCOTUS tells them they have to do that for everybody."


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