Friday, April 11, 2014

Gay Marriage in Grand Rapids

On March 21, 2104 Federal District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled Michigan's ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional and did not issue a stay on his ruling, intending that counties in Michigan could begin issuing marriage licenses the following Monday. But in response to the ruling, four counties in Michigan opened on Saturday - Oakland, Washtenaw, Ingham, and Muskegon - so 315 licenses were issued and hundreds of couples were married before the Sixth Circuit Court put a temporary stay on the ruling Saturday afternoon. Later that week, on March 25, a federal appeals court issued a indefinite stay on the ruling, making those couples married on Saturday the only "legally" married gay couples in Michigan for the foreseeable future.

While the State of Michigan will not be able to recognize these marriages, pending appeal, until perhaps the summer of 2015, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated on March 28 that gay couples who married before the stay are recognized by the federal government and will receive federal benefits.

West Michigan is a conservative part of the country, and this issue has been polarizing for the community. People have strong feelings both for gay marriage and against. It's only been ten years since the amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as "the union of one man and one woman" passed with 58.6% of the vote. Yet clearly there has been a large shift in public opinion about who should be able to legally marry since then. The dialogue on this issue has devolved over time, with accusations of bigotry and hatred being flung from both sides, and positions on the battlefield being carefully selected and staked out. Legalizing gay marriage would seem to affect only a small portion of the population, but given the high profile lawsuits involving wedding cake bakers and photographers as well as the coerced resignation of Brendan Eich last week from Mozilla, a company he co-founded, tensions are high. Any sample Mlive article's comments section gets heated and goes on and on. People feel pretty passionate on this issue.

Since Kent County did not issue any marriage licenses on Saturday, March 22, the delay in state recognition of those marriages doesn't directly affect any Grand Rapids couples, but, of course, there are many couples who would marry if they could - as well as thousands, tens of thousands, or more Grand Rapidians who feel very uncomfortable with yet another redefinition of what constitutes marriage.

My Facebook feed has been quiet on this issue, which is interesting to me considering how many friends' profile pictures went red in support when the Supreme Court was debating gay marriage related cases last summer. Is this because the issue is unlikely to be settled soon? Is it because people are afraid to say something publicly and be labeled a bigot or whatever the current ad hominem attack words are? Or get fired from a work position now or in the future? Are they just tired of hearing about it or weary of this skirmish in the culture wars? After all, it's in court hands now and will be decided by unelected judges not democratic referendums or marketing campaigns, and the average person has no power to decide things either way. So silence is perhaps the best strategy.

But out of the public eye, in my acquaintance, Grand Rapidians and West Michiganders do have their opinions, and they are not silent about them. We live in interesting times.