County clerks prepared after court strikes down same-sex marriage ban

Supporters of gay marriage celebrate outside the Supreme Court on Friday, June 26, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage in a historic 5-4 ruling. (Oliver Contreras/Zuma Press/TNS)
Supporters of gay marriage celebrate outside the Supreme Court on Friday, June 26, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage in a historic 5-4 ruling. (Oliver Contreras/Zuma Press/TNS)

MICHIGAN — The proper forms are ready and so are the Mecosta, Osceola and Lake county clerks.

On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that states cannot bar same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their unions. The decision legalized same-sex marriage throughout the nation, and also overturned an earlier Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision which had upheld Michigan’s voter-approved gay-marriage ban.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the right to marry is fundamental. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that under the 14th Amendment’s protections, “couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.”

In response to the ruling, Gov. Rick Snyder called for respect for the judicial process.

“Our state government will follow the law and our state agencies will make the necessary changes to ensure that we will fully comply,” Snyder said. “Let’s also recognize while this issue has stirred passionate debate, we now should focus on the values we share. With this matter now settled, as Michiganders we should move forward positively, embracing our state’s diversity and striving to treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

Throughout the area, local county clerks are prepared for same-sex couples who wished to apply for a marriage license. Soon after the decision was handed down by the court on Friday morning, the state had made the corrected forms available to Michigan clerks, said Osceola County Clerk Karen Bluhm

“Effective immediately we can issue the licenses,” Bluhm said. “We are moving forward. We are still working on a few things with our software that will be updated, but we can accomplish what we need to for anyone who wants a marriage license now.”

Lake County Clerk Shelly Myers and Mecosta County Clerk Marcee Purcell both said their offices also are ready with updated forms for applicants.

However, there is a three-day period applicants must wait to get married after receiving their licenses. The waiting period can be waived, but the Osceola, Mecosta and Lake county clerks do not intend to waive it just because of the ruling.

“Yes, we can waive the waiting period for good cause, but I typically don’t unless there truly is a good reason,” Purcell said.

Reasons for waiving the waiting period requirement could be religious, military or emergency situations, Myers said.

Church denominations represented throughout the area are mixed on their stance regarding same-sex marriage. The United Methodist Church at its General Conference in 2012 decided not to acknowledge same-sex unions, said the Rev. Rebecca Morrison, of Big Rapids First United Methodist Church. The issue is on the agenda for the next General Conference in 2016, she added.

Bishop David J. Walkowiak, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, issued a statement opposing the Supreme Court’s Friday decision. While noting, “Unconditional love and acceptance for all is at the heart of the Gospel. It is also at the heart of our Catholic faith. This is true regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation …” the bishop disagrees with the concept of same-sex marriage.

“The Catholic faith has constantly taught that marriage is the unique relationship between one man and one woman that needs to be promoted and strengthened,” he wrote, continuing with the statement this view is supported by the “biological realities” necessary to “allow for the natural procreation of children” and the opportunity children have to be nurtured under that definition.

“Neither today’s United States Supreme Court decision, nor subsequent alterations to civil law, can change this truth which we profess,” he said.

However, other local denominations have the opposite opinion.

“The United Church of Christ, in particular, was probably one of the first mainline denominations to affirm marriage equality years ago. The Presbyterians did so more recently,” said the Rev. Jon Fleming, of the United Church of Big Rapids, which represents both denominations. “Both denominations I represent are in favor of this ruling as a matter of justice and equality.

“I was a member of the General Synod of the church that affirmed that position years ago at the national meeting of the church. That is where my personal sentiments lie as well.”

Both pastors noted they cannot speak for their congregations as a whole.

“I’m sure there are opinions both for and against the issue. We have people in our congregation from all walks of life and some are more liberal and some are more conservative,” Morrison said. “I think the reaction will be mixed.”

Fleming was careful to note his feelings may not be shared by every member of his church.

“Nowhere is there unanimity on this hot-button issue,” he said. “I do not speak on behalf of the entire United Church of Big Rapids.”

In the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, Kennedy notes religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines, “may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

Kennedy went on to state those who believe same-sex marriage is “proper or indeed essential” whether on religious or other grounds may engage those who disagree with that view. While people on both sides of the issue have a right to express their opinion on the matter, the government cannot exclude same-sex couples from the institution.

“The Constitution, however, does not permit the state to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex,” Kennedy said.

Pioneer Associate Editor Candy Allan and Lake County Star staff writer Brendan Losinski contributed to this article.