Michigan gay couples remember a day of 'joyous bedlam' while holding breath over Supreme Court decision
Filing joint tax returns, adopting children together and signing up for spousal insurance and retirement benefits became possible this year for 323 same-sexcouples who married on March 22, 2014.
And for Anthony Shankshaft and Thomas Toon of Chelsea, getting married meant being able to stay in this country together.
Shankshaft, an immigrant from England, got a green card because of his marriage to Toon.
It was a wedding performed in a rush on the one day it was legal last year as a result of a brief gap between federal court orders on Michigan's gay marriage ban.
"Part of our joy is tempered by the fact that there are a lot of couples like us in Michigan who just weren't able to get there on time," Toon said.
It was a common sentiment among dozens of couples who gathered Sunday to raise champagne glasses and mark their first anniversaries together in Ann Arbor, Muskegon, Ferndale and Lansing celebrations.
"The only unfortunate thing," said Cass Varner of Ferndale, who married Sheri Folta a year ago, "is that we have to wait for the summer to find out if the rest of the folks who want to get married, can."
For those who didn't live in one of four counties where clerks worked rare weekend hours to issue marriage licenses that spring Saturday -- and for those who did, but didn't make it to the front of the line in time -- a legal, same-sex union in Michigan remains impossible.
An appeals court reinstated the same-sex marriage ban that a Detroit federal judge initially struck down as unconstitutional.
And the matter now sits before the U.S. Supreme Court, with a ruling expected in June.
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Couples who did manage to marry before the appeals court put a halt to the rapid-fire weddings reminisced Sunday about scrambling to gather relatives and hurrying to their county clerks.
Some wore tuxedos that day. Most wore whatever they could throw on before rushing out the door.
Family members brought cameras. Volunteer officiants showed up offering to perform nuptials. Supporters brought doughnuts.
"It was an energy in the room that day that cannot be duplicated by any means," said Roland Smith of Farmington Hills who married Paul Mattson.
"You can perform many, many more weddings, but there will never be one like those on March 22, 2014. It will never, ever be like that again."
Judge Darlene O'Brien performed marriages for some of the 75 couples who got licenses in Ann Arbor that day.
"It was thrilling to see how many people were in the lobby of the clerk's office," O'Brien said. "It was wonderful. It was joyous bedlam. It was a very special day."
In Muskegon, about 50 weddings were held at Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where the county clerk relocated to issue marriage licenses that day.
"It was a whole room full of total strangers all here for the same reason," said Art Ledin-Bristol, who married Corey Ledin-Bristol. "Everyone was very happy and it was like you walked into a room full of friends immediately because we're all in the same situation."
Whether or not more gay couples in the state and across the country are eventually allowed to do the same will be decided after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on April 28 and issues a summer decision in cases out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
The plaintiffs in Michigan's case -- a Hazel Park lesbian couple who challenged the state's ban because they can't jointly adopt their children -- last month filed written arguments that supporters celebrated and supplemented with amicus briefs.
Soon it'll be the state's turn. A response brief arguing to protect the voter-approved ban, which was passed in a statewide referendum in 2004, is due Friday.
The state in past arguments has cited a Supreme Court ruling that came last year, upholding Michigan's voter-approved ban against affirmative action.
Lawyers for the state argued that the gay marriage ban should also stand, "out of respect for democracy."
Former Michigan Solicitor General John Bursch, who successfully argued before the Supreme Court in the affirmative action case, is set to present the state's arguments in the gay marriage case on April 28.
Civil rights lawyers for the Hazel Park couple argued that same-sex marriage bans violate constitutional equal protection and due process rights while causing economic and psychological harm to children.
Kathleen and Jennifer LaTosch said they saw the pain it caused their two sons before they married at the Oakland County Clerk's office a year ago.
They first lined up to marry at an Oakland County courthouse in October 2013, hoping a ruling against the ban would come then, at the conclusion of a pivotal hearing in the Hazel Park case.
It didn't, and they walked away disappointed, but not as agitated as their two kids.
"They really thought that we were going to have to live in different houses," said Jennifer LaTosch.
The Ferndale couple, denied a ability to legally marry for 22 years, was caught off guard by the effect of that last denial on their children.
"I didn't really expect that to land on them like that," said Kathleen LaTosch.
"Both of them were really unhappy... They're also at an age where they're seeing some of their friends' parents divorce, so they put that together with this and said 'Does that mean we're going to live in separate houses? Is someone going to come and take us away because we're an illegal family?' If we're not legal, we must be illegal. That's how 9-year-old brains work."
Their kids were apprehensive the second time around, after U.S. District District Judge Bernard Friedman did strike down the ban on March 21, 2014.
"They were there with us, and they were nervous, but once it happened, they were really excited," LaTosch said.
"... It was a really powerful day,"
Even if the high court ultimately rules in favor of legalizing gay marriage nationwide this summer, there will be continuing challenges for same-sex couples ahead, advocates said.
The state House last week passed legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to turn away gay applicants on religious grounds without reductions in government funding cuts.
"We know that marriage equality is one step in a journey for equality," said gay rights activist Regina Calcagno of the group Michigan For Marriage.
"There are are other hurdles that we'll have to overcome, but one of the beautiful things that happened over the past year, we've been able to talk about families... And we have these 300-plus couples, many of them with children, and a lot of people have been able to look at that and say 'Oh, the sky hasn't fallen.'
"The conversation has really moved forward."
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