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Michigan clerks marry same-sex couples after judge strikes down ban

By Reuters
Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:59 EDT
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Plaintiff April Deboer celebrates with a supporter at the Affirmations Center after a Michigan federal judge ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and must be overturned, in Ferndale, Michigan March 21, 2014
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Officials in several Michigan counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in hastily arranged and joyful ceremonies on Saturday, a day after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on allowing gay couples to wed.

At least 50 people had lined up in the Oakland County clerk’s office in Pontiac, on the outskirts of the Detroit metropolitan area, when Clerk Lisa Brown arrived to open it at 8 a.m. local time carrying a heart-shaped balloon.

Brown’s staff handed out paperwork to couples who were undeterred by the Michigan attorney general’s immediate appeal of the judge’s decision.

Frank Colasonti, 61, and James Barclay Ryder, 48, became the first gay couple to marry in the county. They wore dark suits, with pins on their lapels bearing the slogan: “Same Love, Same Rights.”

“We’re going to celebrate with a nice quiet lunch and then go pick out our wedding rings,” Colasonti said following the ceremony, which took place 26 years after they first met at a church.

Moments later, a lesbian couple emerged from the ceremony room and filled the corridor with elated screams.

Clerks in at least three other counties – Washtenaw, Ingham and Muskegon – also opened on Saturday to issue marriage licenses.

Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages became law in 2004 as a state constitutional amendment. It was challenged by a lesbian couple who live in the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park after the law prevented them from jointly adopting each other’s children.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the law breached equal protection rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Bill Schuette, the state’s attorney general, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit for an emergency order to stay the decision, but no stay had been issued by Saturday morning.

If a stay is granted, same-sex couples marrying on Saturday could find themselves in legal limbo.

In December, a federal district judge in Utah overturned that state’s ban on same-sex weddings and Utah’s attorney general appealed.

Some 1,300 gay couples married in Utah in the few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay while the appeal is considered, leaving the newly wed couples uncertain about whether they have the rights usually afforded by marriage.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the couple who successfully challenged the Michigan ban, said on Friday they would not marry until the legal uncertainty in their state was resolved.

Other couples decided not to wait. Barb Byrum, the Ingham County clerk, posted pictures on her Twitter account of two women who had been together 26 years and were married shortly after Byrum opened her office on Saturday morning.

“People have waited long enough,” Byrum wrote of her decision to open her office on a weekend day. “I was sick with myself with the idea of waiting until Monday.”

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia now allow same-sex nuptials, a number that would be substantially increased if a series of recent court decisions in other states are upheld.

Supporters of the bans in Michigan, Utah and elsewhere have cited tradition, religious texts and the welfare of children for their position that only opposite-sex marriages should be legal, arguments that several courts have ruled insufficient.

(Additional reporting and writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Rosalind Russell)

Reuters
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