Monday, March 24, 2014

Equality Comes to Michigan -- Part 1: Hearing the News and Preparing to Respond

This past Friday, after 5 p.m., when the county clerks had just closed, Judge Bernard Friedman, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled that our constitutional ban against same-sex marriage, voted into the constitution in 2004, was unconstitutional.  In his findings, he said:
In attempting to define this case as a challenge to “the will of the people,” Tr. 2/25/14 p. 40, state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor , 133 S. Ct. at 2694. Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.
 We knew that the state attorney general, Bill Schuette, had immediately filed an appeal and an emergency stay of the decision, but that it, too, happened after the close of offices Friday.  So it looked like if couples were to get married, it would happen only licenses could get issued over the weekend.  On Facebook, I began to see UU colleagues in Michigan immediately asking if any clerk was going to be open over the weekend.  We heard a statement from Barb Byrum, the Ingham County Clerk, that she would open first thing on Monday morning and start issuing licenses, but we knew that the emergency stay could go through so quickly that we wouldn't have our window if we had to wait until Monday. I called Equality Michigan to find out if they knew anything more from any county clerks, and only got answering machines, unsurprisingly.  Then I called Randy Block, Director of the Michigan UU Social Justice Network.  He hadn't learned anything about any clerks opening yet, either, but said he would call and e-mail me if he did and I said I would post it by e-mail to the clergy groups and to Facebook. 

Around 9:30 p.m., I had just seen that the Washtenaw County Clerk was going to open on Saturday morning via a post from Gail Geisenhainer, who was busy talking to her members and community contacts and perhaps the clerk himself.  Randy Block called to say that he had learned Washtenaw County Clerk (in Ann Arbor) was going to be open and also the Muskegon County Clerk, and amazingly the Muskegon County Clerk would be issuing licenses from the Harbor UU Church there in Muskegon!  He sent me an e-mail about Muskegon and I forwarded it to our chapter Yahoo group, along with the request that if anybody were to hear about any other county that they notify the group.  Some folks wanted to stay in their own counties and put pressure on their clerks to open, but I knew my own County Clerk would not be opening, based on our experience with her in October, so, faced with a choice of protesting here or helping there, I prepared to travel to Washtenaw.  Oakland and Ingham County seemed the most likely to open, so I and others kept an open ear.  We knew Barb Byrum in Ingham had said Monday, but also knew that she wanted to issue licenses.  And the Oakland County Clerk, Lisa Brown, had been active and public about the desire to issue licenses, and had testified for the defense in the case.  Those were the counties to watch.  The UU ministers in Southeast Michigan had done some good work earlier in the year getting to know who our county clerks were and identifying which of them would issue licenses with the most haste.  We had created a Google doc to share this information. 

On a personal note, my daughter had a performance on Saturday and my whole family was heading here to Jackson to see it.  And my car had been totaled a week ago, and we had just gotten the news that the insurance company considered it totaled slightly before Friedman's decision, but they wouldn't be issuing us a rental car until Monday.  So I had a busy schedule to juggle and one car for our household.  I posted to Facebook asking if any other local progressive clergy would also be interested in heading to Washtenaw, but got no positive response.  But I determined that if we left here at 8 and got me to the courthouse at 9, my husband and daughter could get back just in time for her to show up for her performance.  I didn't know for sure how I would get home and when I get home, but we agreed to play that more by ear.  I knew my daughter would understand why I wanted to be in Ann Arbor.  I had been saying all year as this case progressed that if I could get anywhere and perform ceremonies and sign licenses when it became legal, that I would do so.  I knew all the couples I had married before in non-legal ceremonies were in counties where they wouldn't be able to get licenses, so I was free to go wherever I could.

Around 1:15 a.m. I saw a post from Equality Michigan on Facebook that Lisa Brown in Oakland would be opening for business, and I shared the post and e-mailed our HUUMA Yahoo and Southeast MichigaN UU Ministers Yahoo group.  In the early hours of the morning I realized my copies of the ceremony I had prepared and my stoles were all at church, and I wouldn't have time to get them in the morning, as there was no way my husband was going to agree to get up the extra 40 minutes early.  I hunted down my clergy collar that I hadn't worn since maybe the Phoenix GA -- I hate the thing, as it's too tight.  I printed off new copies, with my printer that had decided in the name of equality that it would cooperate that day.  And then I went to sleep to get the five hours that would carry me through the next day.

The next morning I awoke and got ready, and checked Facebook.  Across Michigan, we were preparing for the day.  Jeff Liebman stayed in Midland, prepared to act if his clerk would open, and talked to the press and contacted couples he knew were waiting there.  Colleen Squires and Fred Wooden prepared for a protest to happen in Grand Rapids on Sunday.  I saw that Barb Byrum must have decided to open for business, because Kathryn Bert had posted that she was headed there.  She brought her team of Nic Cable and Julica Herman with  her.  Kimi Riegel awoke to see my post about Oakland County and headed there.  Tom Schade and Gail Geisenhainer had already said the previous day that they would be there in Ann Arbor.  Mark Evens came briefly, as well.  And in Muskegon, Bill Freeman headed to church. 

The UU clergy of Michigan were ready and prepared for this day to come, and it had come at last.

2 comments:

ReelGrrl1 said...

Wow!!!

Heather said...

There's something about this post, particularly at the end, that reminds me of the LOTR movies, when everyone has prepared, and the battle is about to begin--perhaps the Battle for Helm's Deep?