Gay marriage ralliers in Ann Arbor: 'There are just no words to describe the feeling we have'
Dozens of members of Ann Arbor's gay and lesbian community and allies were in festive spirits late Wednesday as they celebrated the day's historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Packed into Braun Court, with drinks on tap on the outdoor patio of Aut Bar, they sang and danced and laughed, with songs promoting love and tolerance blasting through a set of speakers.
"Today is definitely a day of celebration," said Aut Bar co-owner Keith Orr. "Fundamentally, it is the beginning of a change, and it'll happen now state by state, court by court, case by case."
Orr and his partner, Martin Contreras, have been together 27 years, yet they've never been allowed to get married in Michigan — and they still can't for now.
The court ruled Wednesday that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed by the states and struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage. But the rulings do not affect recognition of same-sex marriages on the state level outside of California.
And so the rulings leave in place Michigan's constitutional amendment barring the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.
"But it's huge that at some point in the not too distant future it's an option for us," Orr said. "When you're together 27 years, we've withstood a lot, but it's always so much better when society is supporting your relationship, instead of not supporting it — or even worse, mocking it."
In attendance at the rally hosted by the Jim Toy Community Center were Marge Eide and Ann Sorrell, both 76. They've been together 40-plus years and were moved to tears Wednesday.
"It's the equivalent of 9/11 for us, in a good way — 6/26 is going to stand out in my mind forever," Eide said. "I mean, we just never dreamt something like this would happen in our lifetime."
More than anything, they said, Wednesday's outcome means public opinion is changing, and society is becoming more accepting of their lifestyle.
"We've been crying all day," Sorrell said. "There are just no words to describe the feeling we have. To see on television the people cheering — and you see them waving American flags as well as rainbow flags — it's now like we're part of America."
Michigan's ban on gay marriage is the subject of a lawsuit in Detroit federal court. Judge Bernard Friedman said in March he would wait to issue a decision until after the Supreme Court ruling.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"Pending what the federal court in Detroit says, we're preparing to be ready on the day that decision comes down so we can move right away into issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples," he said. "So we've been looking at forms in other states. Until the state comes up with better forms, we'll have to temporarily modify the ones we've got, but we plan to hit the ground running."
Kestenbaum said he'll also waive the three-day waiting rule for marriage licenses that day without the usual $50 fee imposed.
"For this special occasion, I'll waive the fee," he said. "I understand a number of people are ready to go when that day comes, which might be very soon, and there will be clergy available to conduct weddings right in the county building. It will be quite a day."
State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, and state Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, jointly called on the Michigan Legislature on Wednesday to pass marriage equality legislation they've introduced.
"Based on the comments of some of the Republicans I've worked with over the recent years, the ones who run the show in Lansing, I think it's going to be a real challenge to pass marriage equality with a two-thirds majority," Irwin acknowledged. "However, I'm not going to give up on trying."
Irwin said same-sex couples in Michigan cannot afford to wait any longer for equal protection for their families.
"I think there's a celebratory atmosphere here at the Aut Bar because you're seeing the cracks in the wall of discrimination crumbling right before our very eyes," he said.
Irwin, who called the rulings a partial victory, said there's still a lot of work to do. But he said he's seen increasing tolerance toward same-sex marriage among both Democrats and Republicans.
"I think public opinion is moving so fast on this issue," he said. "We can't give up on the opportunity for a legislative solution, but I do think the public is coalescing around marriage equality and if the legislators are unwilling to do it, before long the citizens are going to have to do it themselves."
Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Carol Kuhnke, who is openly gay, said she's hopeful she'll be able to get married in Michigan someday.
"This is such a huge leap forward," she said of Wednesday's rulings. "I think it's a great day for equality and it's good for both straight and LGBT people. When we all get to love who we want to love, that's good for everybody."
Jim Toy, who is considered the first openly gay man in Michigan and also the co-author of Ann Arbor's non-discrimination policy, offered brief words of encouragement at Wednesday's rally: "We are climbing up the mountain of justice, and I look to see you all on total equality day."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.