GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The first same-sex marriage license was issued in West Michigan Saturday morning, following a landmark decision by a federal judge in which the state’s ban on gay marriage was ruled unconstitutional.
Around 9:30 a.m., the first license was signed and ceremonies were performed at Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Muskegon.
On Friday, Rev. Bill Freeman of Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation said he would begin to perform the ceremonies Saturday morning. In a written statement, he wrote, “I’m ready to perform as many same-sex weddings as is humanly possible,” and wrote that same-sex couples wishing to get married could call him at 616.796.5598 for information on ceremonies.
Originally, the services were slated to begin at 11 a.m., but the fear of the possibility of a stay from the government caused Freeman to move up the ceremonies.
Late Friday night, Muskegon County clerk Nancy Waters told 24 Hour News 8 she would issue marriage licenses at the same-sex weddings performed at Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation on Saturday.
“I will be offering marriage licenses to those individuals who are eligible based on the application they will be filing for marriage in Muskegon County,” Nancy Waters told 24 Hour News 8 Friday night. “The requirements are they need to show me a pictured ID, they also need to have their Social Security numbers, they will need to complete the application showing their parents, their mother and father’s names and places where they were born, and present age and date of birth; the general information that is required of all marriages currently in the state of Michigan.”
The marriage forms are different than the current forms that say “bride” and “groom.” Waters said the same-sex marriage applications will instead have “Applicant A” and “Applicant B” on them.
Waters also said that while the forms have not been approved by the state, her legal counsel has approved them.
On Friday afternoon, minutes after the federal judge’s ruling, Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette asked the judge to issue a stay, which would keep the ban intact while the ruling goes to an appeals court.
In a surprising move, the judge chose not to issue a stay — meaning for now, Michigan’s gay marriage ban is off the books.
“[Schuette] is doing what the people require of him, which is defend our laws,” said Cooley Law School professor Curt Benson said.
As of Saturday morning, no stay had been issued.
“I think the court, although he didn’t issue the stay, [the judge] did at least give the clerks a weekend to figure out — how do we deal with this Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday when the flood gates open?” Benson said.
When 24 Hour News 8 checked with other West Michigan county clerks Friday night, some said they did not have correct forms from the state to allow for same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses.
“Clerks rely on their forms and it says name of husband, name of wife. It seems like a little thing to us but to them it’s a big deal,” Benson said. “They don’t know how to work these forms. They need time to have new forms printed out.”
In Allegan County, County Clerk Joyce Watts said she did not have the proper paperwork to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
“We would need to have new forms that don’t reference male, female, bride, and groom. And we do not have those,” Watts said.
The state is working on new forms, and they could be sent to county clerks over the weekend. Typically in Michigan, those seeking a marriage license have to wait three days after applying for one before it is valid.
However, clerks also have the option to issue an emergency waiver for a marriage license to eliminate that wait period.
“If I had a form and if I had advice from my legal counsel that that was in my scope of authority, yes I would issue a license,” Watts said.
24 Hour News 8 will continue to monitor this situation Saturday. Check back with woodtv.com for updates.