Appeal on Gay Marriage Ruling Dampens Celebrations
Bethany Joy Rozeboom and Mary Winn couldn't have been much happier after receiving their long-awaited marriage license this weekend after a judge's ruling that Michigan's ban on such same-sex unions was illegal.
But the Grand Rapids couple and others across Michigan were still in a waiting game Monday to be recognized as legally married on state driver's licenses, voter registration records, Social Security cards and other documents because the ruling has been put on hold while the state appeals.
Some couples were able to file applications for adoptions and federal tax documents, but fear the process may be hampered by the legal tussle, while similar efforts at state offices were thwarted.
"I feel like it's been a constant yo-yo, even this whole weekend," Rozeboom said after being denied an application Monday for a new driver's license at a Michigan Secretary of State Office branch in Grand Rapids. "Walking out and having a legal marriage license that was signed by a clerk, we felt this is as official as it gets. This felt like we can be done now. But we can't be done now. Now what?"
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state's 2004 law banning same-sex marriages on Friday while deciding a 2012 lawsuit by Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer. The couple is raising three adopted children with special needs, but couldn't jointly adopt each other's children because that was tied exclusively to marriage in Michigan.
On Saturday morning, four county clerks began issuing marriage licenses before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued an order reinstating Michigan's ban. Rozeboom and Winn took advantage of the brief legal window and had their marriage officiated.
The appeals court froze Friedman's decision until at least Wednesday, saying the time-out will "allow a more reasoned consideration" of the state's request to stop same-sex marriages.
Devin Schindler, a professor at Thomas M. Cooley law school, said it's the first time a state law banning gay marriage has landed at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which takes cases from federal courts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The issue for the court this week is whether to indefinitely suspend Friedman's decision while the entire case is appealed.
"If the stay is granted, I would read nothing into it," Schindler said. "It would merely be the court saying we need more time to consider this important matter on the merits."
Meanwhile, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett on Monday urged the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages that were licensed Saturday as lawful and eligible for federal benefits. A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials were monitoring the case.
Employees at Secretary of State offices have been told not to accept applications to change names on driver's licenses from members of same-sex couples due to the appeals court stay, said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the secretary of state.
"Certainly, we'll comply with whatever the decision is and whatever the law is," Woodhams said Monday. "Over the weekend, when (Friedman's) decision was in effect, people could have changed their names with a same-sex marriage license. Due to the stay, we fell back."
Gov. Rick Snyder's spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said it's not "appropriate or prudent" to comment amid the legal proceedings.
"We await court or legal direction on this complex, unusual situation," she said. "We're sensitive to feelings on this issue and are hoping for a swift resolution for all involved."
Art and Corey Ledin-Bristol traveled from Grand Rapids to neighboring Muskegon County to get their marriage license because the Kent County clerk did not issue any Saturday.
A supervisor at the Social Security office in Grand Rapids accepted their application, but told them it would be put on hold. The couple of 11 years wasn't allowed to turn in applications for new driver's licenses.
"It was expected, but it's still very disappointing," Art Ledin-Bristol said. "I think we just really wanted to have them tell us 'no' to our faces, but we still held out hope they would let it go through. They are putting us in legal limbo."
Donna DeMarco and Lisa Ulrey got their marriage license at the Oakland County clerk's office in Pontiac and had their ceremony officiated by a non-denominational minister in the same building.
That hitch went off without a hitch. Getting their driver's licenses changed did not.
"We're not going to push it for right now, but we will eventually like to," said DeMarco, a marketing supervisor for a Detroit-area weight loss firm.
"Along with the name changes comes all of our financial documents, too; wills, beneficiaries. We basically refer to each other as our wife as much as possible. This kind of makes it official in our mind all of the time."
Updated voter registrations and insurance policies are also on hold, as are legal adoptions by same-sex couples.
Cheryl Pine turned in her application paperwork in Oakland County on Monday to join Jenny Stanczyk in adopting their two children. The couple became foster parents of the children four years ago, but Stanczyk was the only one legally allowed to adopt them a year later.
Pine said the staff was "incredibly and supportive and gracious" and accepted her application, but noted that nothing at the moment is clear.
"They said, 'We don't really know what's going to happen because this is all so new ... but you should hear from somebody within the next week or two,'" said Pine, who married Stanczyk in 2011 in Iowa and learned Saturday that it's "accepted and valid" by the county clerk's office in Michigan.
Stanczyk said getting the adoption squared away is the most important thing for them and updating information with tax, driver's license and voting information with state and federal offices is "secondary."
She said their adoption issue is the same that led to the lawsuit filed by DeBoer and Rowse.
"It was about equal rights for their kids," Stanczyk said.