EL Rewind: One Year after Michigan Same-Gender Marriages, EL Couple Awaits Supreme Court Ruling

Sunday, March 22, 2015, 6:00 am
By: 
Telaina Eriksen

Above: Stephen Thomas (left) and Joe Lonstein during a trip to Marquette

In March 2014, a U.S. District Court ruled unconstitutional Michigan's 2004 constitutional amendment which denied people of the same gender the right to marry. At the announcement of the ruling, 323 Michigan couples hurried to get their licenses and get legally married before the inevitable appeal of the decision.

East Lansing residents Stephen Thomas and Joseph Lonstein, both professors at Michigan State University, were among the Michigan couples to get married a year ago today, in the brief window allowed by the District Court’s ruling. In November 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court upheld Michigan’s right to deny people of the same gender marriage rights. The U.S Supreme Court has agreed to hear Michigan’s case along with three other cases about marriage equality. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on these four cases this summer, probably in June.

“The process of getting married last year at the courthouse in Mason was both simultaneously exciting and frustrating—we were thrilled that there was an opportunity to be married, but because it was pretty clear from the Attorney General’s statements that there was going to only be a brief window in which to marry, we were in a complete rush that Saturday morning.  We quickly called two good friends to come be our witnesses, but we had no time to arrange to have any family members present. No other very close friends were there, and no clergy from the religious groups we identify with.  We had no time to plan a celebration afterwards that day—we went to a diner to have breakfast with our friends after leaving the courthouse.  It was a joyful and an incredibly moving day, but not the way we would have experienced such an important life event if we had time to plan it,” the couple stated in an email to me.

Lonstein and Thomas have been together for 16 years. They met in Amherst, Massachusetts, at a holiday party hosted by mutual friends. They moved to Michigan 13 years ago. “We moved to Michigan before there was marriage equality in Massachusetts. We were excited about the possibility of finally being able to be legally married in our ‘adopted’ state that we’re grown to love, and to have our relationship formally recognized in a way that was equal to other similar relationships here.”  

The couple said they didn’t think they would see gay marriage until much later in their lifetimes. “When things began to move quickly on the issue nationwide in the past few years it took us by surprise.  For fifteen years we were not legally bound together, and there was something comforting about continually reaffirming that we were together because we choose to be. However, when the chance to marry came up, we felt like we should not let the opportunity pass us by. The legality of marriage is most significant to us because it conveys a different degree of recognition at a broader local, state, and federal level. It doesn’t necessarily change how we feel about each other or how close friends and family see us, but hopefully indicates to all others that our relationship is no different in most ways to other marriages and deserves similar respect.”  

Lonstein and Thomas said it has been a roller coaster ride. “We were married one day and then not the next and then now we are married again.  At times it is demoralizing to feel like a second-class citizen and the various marriage inequality rulings made us sometimes wonder if Michigan should be our permanent home. We know couples who have left the state because of this. We also laughed at some of the statements made this past year by our Attorney General and Governor—it’s absurd that given the many serious issues that the people of our state face on a daily basis that our government chose to spend time and taxpayer dollars on fighting marriages like ours.”

On February 24, 2015, the East Lansing’s City Council agreed to sign on to the amici curiae which includes cities and mayors throughout the country supporting same gender marriage (in response to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding Michigan’s Constitutional ban). In the 44-page statement, the amici curiae talk about the benefits of marriage, saying, “Marriage makes citizens more productive, and economically successful and all municipalities prosper when the right to marry is equally available to all who live within their borders.”

The amici curiae also state, “excluding a certain class of citizens from marriage undermines the dignity and respect government owes all of its citizens. Gay and lesbian couples live in all of our communities, where they raise children, support each other in sickness and in health, combine assets, buy homes…the stability of these family units directly benefits municipalities.”

Thomas and Lonstein said in their case there are frankly few or no financial advantages to their marriage.  “We were each fortunate enough to have excellent health insurance through our jobs even without being married—although it should be acknowledged that MSU has for many years been very forward-thinking about partner benefits. Years ago, we jumped through the many hoops to make the necessary legal arrangements to ensure each other’s security in case of a medical emergency or one of our deaths, and those arrangements are probably mostly redundant now.  

They added, “We hope that the laws in Michigan will change soon so that many others will also have the opportunity to finally marry whom they love.”

 

The Supreme Court is expected in late June to announce its decision on whether same-gender couples have a constitutional right to marry. Read more at USA Today.

Disclosure: Stephen Thomas serves on the Board of Directors of East Lansing Info.

UPDATE March 22, 2015, 12 pm: The first sentence of this article was reworded slightly for clarity.

 

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