PHOTOS: 300 Michigan same-sex couples wed during a one-day window of marriage equality

Same-sex marriage makes people cry

[All non-Twitter photos by Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog.]

Around 300 same-sex Michigan couples took advantage of a one-day window when they were allowed to marry legally yesterday. Four County Clerks — Nancy Waters in Muskegon, Barb Byrum in Ingham, Lawrence Kestenbaum in Washtenaw, and Lisa Brown in Oakland — opened their offices on Saturday to make it happen. The response was like a water-swollen damn bursting.

The infectious tears of happiness and relief flowed in crystal droplets of joy.

Anne I started out at the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office just as it was opening at 9 a.m. By the time we arrived, some couples had been waiting in line for three hours. Those who had numbers from last October from when there was a glimmer of hope that federal judge Bernard Friedman would overturn Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban were given priority.

Inside was a crush of joyous humanity with smiles and laughter and tears all around.


Dexter residents Donnie Greer and Diane VanDorn wait for their license with their children. Donnie and Diane, both teachers, have been together for 17 years. Anne followed this couple through the entire process and has a full post about their experience with photos HERE.

Once couples received their licenses, many of them went downstairs where officiants from a wide array of faiths were on-hand, ready to perform ceremonies.

One officiant was Judith Levy, the first openly-gay federal judge in the 6th Circuit Court. She performed the first ceremony of the day in Washtenaw County. It was a powerful moment.

Couples waited for their turn surrounded by loved ones, friends, and strangers. At some points, there were multiple ceremonies going on at the same time in the crowded room.

Afterwards, some of the newlyweds posed for photos while others seemed not to have fully processed the historic immensity of what they had just done.


[Martin Contreras and Keith Orr, co-owners of the Common Language bookstore in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor. They have been together for 27 years.]


[Connie Greer and Diane VanDorn of Dexter.]

Washtenaw County was able to issue 74 licenses before the end of the day and lowered the standard license fee of $50 to $0.01 — one penny — for the day. Over 100 couples were turned away.

Anne and I then drove to Pontiac and the Oakland County Clerk’s office. Walking up to the building, you could see the line inside of couples waiting for there licenses.

County Clerk Lisa Brown was presiding over weddings as her staff churned out licenses.

Asked why this day was significant to her, Brown said it was because she now no longer has to discriminate against people in her office.

Once we got inside, the line was, indeed, very long.

Brown did several individual weddings before realizing they were never going to be able to accommodate everyone that way. With the permission of the couples, she began doing group weddings of a couple of dozen couples. By the end of the day, she her office issued 142 licenses and married over 100 couples. She instructed couples to cross out “bride” or “groom” and write in the appropriate title since Michigan marriage licenses have both on them and have yet to be updated to accommodate same-sex couples.

Here’s video of part of one of the ceremonies:

There was even wedding music provided by musician Gary Rimmer:


[Michigan poet and author Thomas Lynch (left) and his family, attending the wedding of his youngest sister]

The contrasts between Washtenaw County and Oakland County were interesting. In Washtenaw, female couples out-numbered male couples by nearly 4-to-1. In Oakland, it was about even. In Washtenaw there were far more families with children present. While there were families in Oakland, there were fewer couples there with children.

The common and striking common element for both counties was the long term nature of the partnerships. Couple after couple told us they had been together for ten years, fourteen years, seventeen years, twenty-seven years… These men and women have been waiting for more than a decade in many cases for the state government to recognize their loving commitment to each other and to be afforded the countless rights and privileges that come with being married in Michigan. This included the fact that their children will now be protected, the core issue in the court case the triggered this dam-breaking surge in marriages on Saturday.

The rush of marriages has ended now. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed Judge Friedman’s ruling temporarily until Wednesday. At that point, the court may choose to make the stay permanent until the appeal process has been completed. Or they may choose to allow couples to marry until the ruling is reversed.

One of the most ironic moments of the day yesterday was the marriage of Republican strategist and operative Greg McNeilly to his partner Douglas Meeks in Ingham County:

Republican strategist Greg McNeilly married his partner Douglas Meeks in one of the first same-sex marriages in Michigan.

McNeilly, 42, and Meeks, 37, married on Saturday morning at the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason the day after a judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage. […]

McNeilly previously served as executive director of the Michigan Republican Party and campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos.

He now runs the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative political advocacy group, and is chief operating officer for The Windquest Group, an investment firm founded by DeVos.

The DeVos family last year donated to the campaigns of three Holland City Council incumbents who voted against a proposal to expand the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. […]

He still backs the Republican Party, despite its leaders’ efforts to defend Michigan’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

It’s hard for me to grasp how Mr. McNeilly contends with the cognitive dissonance he must experience championing a political party that doesn’t recognize him, his partner, or their marriage as equal and legitimate under the law.

If you wish to contribute to the legal fund of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse so that their legal team can continue their heroic effort on behalf of marriage equality in Michigan — and I can’t begin to tell you how critically important it is that you do — please visit MichiganMarriageChallenge.com and make a contribution today.

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