MASON, Mich. (AP) — Dozens of gay Michigan couples rushed to recite vows one day after the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted, even though their joy Saturday was tempered by fear that a higher court could set aside the judge’s ruling.
Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51, of Lansing, were first in line at the Ingham County Courthouse in the central Michigan city of Mason. DeJong and Caspar, who have been together for 27 years, received their marriage license and immediately were married by Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum.
“I figured in my lifetime it would happen,” Caspar said. “But now, when it happens now, it’s just overwhelming. I still can’t believe it. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
Similar nuptials followed one after another, at times en masse, in at least four of Michigan’s 83 counties. The couples’ haste was out of concern that Attorney General Bill Schuette’s request for a stay could be granted at any time, putting at least a temporary end to the ceremonies.
DeJong said that threat was all the encouragement they needed.
“Come Monday, we might not be able to do it, so we knew we had a short window of time,” she said.
Voters approved the gay marriage ban in a landslide in 2004. In Friday’s historic decision, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples.
It isn’t known when a federal appeals court in Cincinnati will respond to Schuette’s request. Schuette noted Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court in January suspended a similar decision that struck down Utah’s gay-marriage ban.
Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said Saturday that the purpose of the stay would be preserving the state Constitution pending the appeal’s outcome. But she declined to comment on whether or if the state will recognize the new marriages in that scenario.
“The courts will have to sort it out,” she said.
After the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert ordered state agencies to hold off on moving forward with any new benefits for the hundreds of same-sex couples who married during the three-week window until the courts resolved the issue. Agencies were told not to revoke anything already issued, such as a driver’s license with a new name, but were prohibited from approving any new marriages or benefits.
Utah made clear it was not ordering agencies to void the marriages, but that their validity would be decided by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Anna Kirkland, a University of Michigan professor who submitted an expert report in the Michigan case, said people who have received licenses are “legally married” regardless of what state officials do.
“A ruling from a federal judge on the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause … is binding on the state government,” said Kirkland, a professor of women’s studies and political science. “It’s the law of the land until or unless the Supreme Court says otherwise.”
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage also have been overturned in Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
Elizabeth Patten, 52, and her partner of 28 years, Jonnie Terry, 50, of Ann Arbor, were the first couple married in Washtenaw County, where couples began to queue outside the clerk’s office at 5:30 a.m. Saturday and 74 licenses were issued.
“It was really surreal. I don’t know if this is the wedding we imagined,” Patten said after the impromptu ceremony performed by federal Judge Judith Levy in the basement of the county building. “But we are so pleased and honored to be a part of this process and have this opportunity today.”
The line grew, snaking around the corner, and dozens of couples and their family members hugged, hooted and hollered until County Clerk Lawrence Kesterbaum opened the doors at 8:50 a.m.
A county sheriff’s sergeant walked through the line handing out license applications. Where the form asked for the name of the “male,” lesbian couples wrote in an “f” and an “e” in front of the word.
Once paper licenses were approved by the clerk and his staff, couples headed downstairs to a room filled with pastors and a judge.
A Unitarian Universalist church in Muskegon in western Michigan had a clerk issuing wedding licenses Saturday morning. They started a couple hours earlier than planned out of concern the court would approve a stay.
“We’re trying to beat Bill Schuette to the punch,” said Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation Pastor Bill Freeman, who officiated at least eight weddings.
That sentiment was echoed in Mason by Joe Bissell and Justin Maynard, both 33-year-old Lansing residents, who were among more than 50 couples to get a license.
“We wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for that,” Bissell said. “We would’ve invited friends and family and not pissed off our mothers.”
Not among those getting married Saturday were the two who started it all.
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two Detroit-area nurses who are raising three children with special needs, filed a lawsuit in 2012 because they’re barred from jointly adopting each other’s children. Joint adoption is reserved for married heterosexual couples in Michigan.
Their lawsuit sparked the two-week trial culminating with Friday’s decision.
“Our clients will not be getting married until all of the appeals are exhausted,” said their lawyer Dana Nessel.
DeBoer and Rowse said they’ll wait even though the appeals process could take years.
“We will be getting married — when we know that our marriage is forever binding,” DeBoer said.
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub in Detroit and Mike Householder in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.