Friday, Aprill 11th, is the Day of Silence, a national event that protests the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and their supporters.
In the second story of our series about identity and acceptance in West Michigan’s LGBT community, we hear voices from a recent day of celebration. In March 2014, a federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Three county clerks announced they would open the next day, a Saturday, to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Allison Downey went to the Washtenaw County Courthouse to witness the historic event.
Allison: "Can I ask what you guys are doing?"
Woman #1: "We're getting married."
Woman #2: "We just got married."
Allison: "What are you signing?"
Women: "That's our marriage license, official marriage license from Washtenaw County."
It was a bitter, cold day. The second day of spring. But nothing dampened the spirits of the stream of people pouring out of the courthouse or the exuberant passersby honking horns in support.
Allison: "How long have you two been together?"
Mark: "We've been together for twelve-and-a-half years."
Elizabeth: "We've been together 25 years."
Kathleen Summersgill: "20 years, in fact we had already planned our 20th anniversary trip to Florida and so now we're gonna make it a honeymoon/20th anniversary trip."
Allison: "Tell me why you're down at the Washtenaw County Courthouse today."
Mark: "We just got married today."
Karen Hawver: "Came down to get married! (Screams)."
Beth Sherman: "Came to get married, absolutely. In the four-hour window that we had!"
Ed Golembiewski: "My name’s Ed Golembiewski. I'm the Washtenaw County Chief Deputy clerk and director of elections. We got the word last night from Larry, our county clerk, that we were going to be issuing marriage licenses today to same sex couples and it was a distinct pleasure to be a part of this today."
Kerry: "I'm here today at the Washtenaw County courthouse to officiate weddings of same sex couples who’ve been denied the right for years."
Rev. Dean-Ware: "My name is Reverand Deborah Dean Ware. I'm from the church of the Good Shepherd United Church of Christ here in Ann Arbor. We wanted to be here to show the face of Christianity that isn’t denying rights, but a face of Christianity that is actually supportive and loving for all couples regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation."
I was curious about how people perceived the very practical as well as emotional consequences of the ruling.
Lisa Dusseau: "I feel like I'm recognized as a human being now with full constitutional rights... I’m recognized officially. I'm married to the love of my life and I'm so happy that it's happened here in Michigan."
Beth Sherman: "We're now both able to be legal parents to our children. Yeah, which we hadn't been as of yesterday."
Mark: "...Social Security benefits, the fact that we'll be able to be at each other's bedside if we're ever in the hospital..."
This was a community event. There weren't just gay couples at the courthouse. Their kids were there. Their friends and families. And allies who didn’t know a soul, but wanted to show their support.
Emma: "I feel pleased amazed that they let this happen for at least a day or two for my parents but then I feel great that they have more rights as married couple, too."
Rev. Dean-Ware: "My husband and I enjoy an ease in this world, legally, that same gender couples haven’t been able to enjoy."
Sharon: "I'm very African-American. And my husband is probably the whitest guy I ever met. We've been married for almost 26 years and went through people being discouraged about it, being skeptics about it… support and lack of support from family and friends and we know what a struggle it is and that was all too recent and this took way too long, but we're really glad that it is happening. I'm proud to be in Michigan now."
I walk inside the Courthouse and it’s packed with people. Everybody looks really happy. A rainbow flag is draped on the staircase. Downstairs, officiants are performing ceremonies. Rabbis, reverends, people who got ordained on the Internet; They all came early just in case they were needed. Strangers brought flowers, cake, and confetti to share. There was even a volunteer violinist performing.
Officiant Aine Keefer: "May you enter into the mystery that is the awareness of one another’s presence. No more physical than spiritual, warm and near when you are side by side. And warm and near when you are in separate rooms of even distant cities. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mrs. and Mrs. Stephanie Williams and Suzanne Bosek."
Stephanie Williams: "Our relationship's legitimate. I'm not a second class citizen, anymore. I feel like I belong here and it's just really amazing."
Suzanne Bosek: "Well, it doesn't really feel real yet. I mean, we’ve dreamed of this for so many years. It's very strange to get my mind around it. But I feel completely whole. Completely whole and validated."
A good hour-and-a-half after the office officially closed, the very patient deputy clerk and sheriff’s deputies showed us out. As we now know, days later the state attorney general filed an appeal and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati stayed the lower court's ruling. That calls into question the status of same-sex marriages in Michigan.
So, where are we now?
Todd: "History shows us that love always wins. It may be a struggle along the way but love always wins."
Our series is produced by Allison Downey and Zak Rosen. Downey is an associate professor of education at Western Michigan University and a storyteller. Special thanks to Suzanne Siner and Adrian Brown for interview support.
To hear more of Allison Downey's stories, visit her podcast page.
Financial support for this series is provided by a Kalamazoo Community Foundation grant from the Fetzer Institute Fund.