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Preparing for the possibility of judge striking down gay marriage ban

Rick Pluta

Some county clerks are already planning what to do if a federal judge overturns Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages. There are efforts underway to create a gender-neutral version of Michigan’s marriage license and county wedding applications.

Paul Holland and Austin Ashley are planning a commitment ceremony in late September.

Things appear to be coming together. A service at a Buddhist temple, followed by a reception with dancing, drinks, a cake. Well, if they can settle on a cake. Holland says there’s a disagreement there.

“One of us is going to have to give in and give something to the other one, or we’ll just flip a coin, or however it needs to be resolved.”

Sometime later this year, Holland and Ashley plan a trip to New York to be formally married in a state that permits same-sex weddings. Those plans could be altered depending on a decision by a federal judge in Detroit on or shortly after October 1. 

Ashley and Holland say they’d hold a legal wedding ceremony in Michigan if U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman strikes down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban and allows gay weddings to go ahead.

Some county clerks are not waiting for Judge Friedman’s ruling to prepare for those marriages. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum says she wants to be ready at the earliest opportunity to waive fees and the three-day waiting period for the first same-sex couples in line to get married.

“If the judge rules that same-sex couples may be married in our great state, than I would certainly welcome all loving couples to come before the Ingham County clerk and apply for their marriage license,” she said.

State officials say they intend to be prepared no matter what happens. The vital record division in the state Department of Community Health is already talking with county clerks about how to make their applications and the state’s official marriage license gender neutral.

Angela Minicucci is with the Department of Community Health.

She says the state is also talking with officials in other states that already allow same-sex marriage. She says the biggest question is what to call the people applying for a marriage license.

“Some of the other states have used words such as ‘applicants’ or ‘parties,” so it’s a matter of what’s best for our state and just changing those simple pieces of the form.”

Gary Glenn of the American Family Association helped draft Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. It was adopted by Michigan voters in 2004 as an amendment to the state Constitution. He says the challenge to the ban will likely take years.

“And, in the meantime, we’re urging the governor and the attorney general to continue to enforce Michigan’s Constitution and statutory definition of marriage as only being between one man and one woman and that would include reflecting that legal definition on state marriage licenses.”

And it is unlikely that same-sex marriages will be allowed in Michigan the moment Judge Friedman rules. His decision will almost certainly be appealed. The case would go first to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, and then, possibly, to the Supreme Court.

Dana Nessel is an attorney for a lesbian couple that’s challenging the same-sex marriage ban.

“The sooner we get a decision here, the sooner we get to the next and then, perhaps, the next level. And the sooner we’re hoping we’ll have equality in Michigan and maybe not just Michigan, maybe all of the sixth circuit, maybe all of America,” she said. 

As long as the paperwork is ready.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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