‘To love and equality’

Same-sex couples celebrate one-year wedding anniversaries

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published March 26, 2015

Being able to marry the man I love was the literal icing on the wedding cake

Deacon Paul Mattson, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit

METRO DETROIT — For more than 300 same-sex couples across the state of Michigan, March 22, 2015, was a very special day, for it marked the one-year anniversary of their weddings.

Their marriages took place in the brief window of time last year after a federal district court judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, but before the state appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court and had that decision put on hold.

Since then, the American Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit against the state, forcing Gov. Rick Snyder to recognize the 322 same-sex marriages lawfully performed in Michigan.

It was a bittersweet victory for the newlyweds, since so many same-sex couples remain unable to get married. They hope the U.S. Supreme Court will legalize same-sex marriage across the nation, once and for all, when it hears cases out of four states — Michigan included — at the end of this month and delivers a decision this summer.

In the meantime, the couples celebrated their special day. Of the 322 marriages, more than 100 were performed in Oakland County, thanks to the staff of Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, who by all accounts went out of her way to ensure that as many couples exchanged their vows as possible.

A one-year anniversary toast was held at the Affirmations LGBT community center in Ferndale on March 22. The room was jam-packed and crackling with energy and excitement as everyone raised their champagne glasses “to love and equality.”

They spoke of how many of them had been married for years in their hearts and minds — for decades, in some cases — and now the law finally recognized their union and no longer treated them as second-class citizens.

For same-sex couples with children, this law provides protections that will keep their family together in times of crisis. For all of them, it means financial security and improved quality of life.

Deacon Roland Smith and Deacon Paul Mattson, of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, were among the gay couples celebrating their one-year anniversary. The Farmington Hills couple have been together for seven years. Mattson joined the church in 2001 because he feels its support of marriage equality “puts the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christian.’” He noted that he fought long and hard against the 2004 same-sex marriage ban, making his marriage even more meaningful.

“Being able to marry the man I love was the literal icing on the wedding cake,” Mattson said.

His spouse, Smith, was one of the speakers at the event, and he praised Brown and her staff for how they handled the marriages last year.

“It was just a phenomenal, phenomenal day,” Smith said. “I can’t thank you enough, Lisa Brown, for the impeccable staff you had. They were efficient; they were warm; they were welcoming. They could not do enough to make sure our standing in line was worth the wait. It was a historic day, and I’m so glad.

“I am a firm believer that what you send out comes back to you,” Smith continued. “And we’ve always just been who we are. We never try to say anything negative about anything. We are just people who demand the same rights as everyone else. We live, we play, we work; we pay taxes the same as everyone else. We exude that attitude wherever we go. And it comes back to us — people fully accept us. There are still some haters out there who say, ‘You can’t do that,’ but they’ll come around eventually.”

When Brown went up to speak, she was greeted with applause befitting a rock star.

“I can’t thank you enough for sharing your love with me, for letting me be a witness to your love,” Brown told the audience. “When I saw the line, I thought, ‘This is the best.’ … And each ceremony was so special to me, whether it was one couple at a time or a group. Looking up, and seeing and feeling so much love, was overwhelming for me.”

She thanked Judge Bernard Friedman, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, for ruling in favor of marriage equality. She also thanked the legal team representing April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the lesbian couple from Hazel Park who challenged Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, and who will now be taking the issue to the highest court in the land.

Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband, James Ryder, of Birmingham, were the first same-sex couple to be married in Oakland County. They put in a special word of appreciation for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought forth the lawsuit that required the governor to recognize the same-sex marriages performed last year. Eight same-sex couples were named as the plaintiffs in that case, including Colasonti Jr. and Ryder.

One of the couples at the anniversary celebration, B.C. Cabangbang and his husband, Gary Murphy, of Birmingham, have been together for 24 years. They first met at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.

“Some people have said to us, ‘Oh, have you noticed how fast the gay civil rights movement has picked up speed?’ And I say it’s interesting you say ‘how fast.’ When it’s not you, you think it’s fast. When it’s us, it feels like a lifetime,” Cabangbang said. “When you don’t have the rights others have, you see it trickle down.”

He said the notion that “the people should decide” is flawed, since America is supposed to protect the rights of the minority against the whims of a popular majority.

“You can’t vote in (marriage equality) with a plurality of voting,” Cabangbang said. “If you had people voting on women’s suffrage, women would still be the property of men.”

Being a legally recognized married couple has been a learning experience for Cabangbang and Murphy. This was the first year that they jointly filed their taxes, for example. But all of their friends, family and neighbors have been supportive, they said.

“When our neighbors heard about our marriage, they wanted to do a toast. The mayor of Birmingham came, and there were around 70 people there,” Cabangbang said. “Some of our neighbors are conservative, and they say whatever (political sign) we post on our lawn, they’ll vote the opposite. But on (gay marriage), it’s a non-issue. They said, ‘We love you. We know you’re a great couple, and politics aside, we love you.’

“When people don’t know us, they can demonize us, and they can use the pulpit to demonize us before people even get to know us,” Cabangbang said. “But once people get to know us, we become their neighbors. We become family.”