Save the date?

Michigan's same-sex couples hope for legal recognition


By the age of 4, genomics and molecular genetics senior Zachary DeRade could sing along to every word in “The Sound of Music.” He could dance along, too.

At 7 years old, he was just as content playing with Hot Wheels cars as he was dressing up Barbie dolls.

And at 15, he came out.

It started with DeRade jokingly telling his mother how annoyed he was that a girl in his class wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Is that because you’re in love with Justin?” his mom asked.

DeRade remembers smiling and shyly replying, “Well, yeah. Maybe.”

DeRade recently got engaged to his high school sweetheart, MSU alumnus Justin Love.

When DeRade thought about marriage as a kid, he figured he would have to move out of state for it to be a possibility.

“Seeing all of the issues, for us we’ve been kind of debating about it and it actually has been a catalyst for me and Justin to get engaged, even though it will be a few years until we get married,” DeRade said. “We just want to take that lifelong journey together and do it hand in hand.”

As for the wedding, DeRade said he and Love would like it to be held somewhere beautiful and full of Spartan spirit — a place like the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden on campus. 

But before DeRade and Love can make further plans for their dream wedding, they have to wait and see if their upcoming marriage will ever be legal in the state they both love.

A temporary celebration

Although same-sex marriage was only legal for about 24 hours in Michigan before Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a temporary stay request, it didn’t stop couples from flocking to local county clerks’ offices to be officially joined in matrimony.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was among the handful of clerks to open their offices on the Saturday after the ban on same-sex marriage was lifted.

Byrum was able to marry 57 same-sex couples that day and said it was a tremendous honor to do so.

“On Friday, I was in a position that I wasn’t going to open until Monday,” Byrum said. “But I couldn’t sleep knowing I would be requiring couples, who some had been waiting decades, to wait another two days to finally join in marriage.”

So the doors opened, and the ceremonies were performed.

At the courthouse, volunteers even showed up to help Byrum give out the marriage licenses.

Others handed out roses or cheered on same-sex couples of the community, some of whom had been together for decades.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett also showed up to officiate weddings. 

Triplett said he ended up marrying five couples, including MSU James Madison professor and Associate Dean of Social Relations and Policy Julia Grant and her partner.

“From a very personal standpoint, one of the most moving parts of Saturday was (being able) to stand there and solemnize the marriage of my favorite college professor,” he said.

Grant is out of town following her recent marriage and could not be reached for comment.

Same-sex couple and Lansing residents Cody Bernard and Ryan Sebolt didn’t want to rush their own marriage, but instead came to the courthouse just to watch others smile, applaud and cry with joy.

Bernard, who is an employee in the MSU Admissions Office, said it was strange to be granted civil rights so suddenly, something that he said he felt should have had in the first place.

“It’s a weird feeling to know that you have a right that you didn’t have a minute ago before that piece of paper came out,” Bernard said. “It was really emotional. It was exciting to be there for the first time.

“Honestly, (in) 2004 when the ban passed, I didn’t think I would see it (legal gay marriage) I’m my lifetime,” he said.

Currently, the federal government has recognized the same-sex marriages that took place on March 22. In a statement, Gov. Rick Snyder made clear the state thought the marriages conducted between the ruling and the stay were legal, but did not go so far as to grant the newly-married couples full marriage rights.

The conflicting viewpoints put the couples who were legally married in a state of legal limbo. 

Although the temporary celebration was a happy one, Sebolt said the sudden yanking away of same-sex marriage rights came as no surprise.

“That’s been the pattern in other states,” Sebolt said. “It’s more frustration to see our governor and our Attorney General continuing to fight something that’s inevitable. I just go back to the idea of justice delayed is justice denied.”

Triplett has also called on MSU to grant marriage benefits to any MSU faculty members who were married that day.

“I feel pretty strongly that these marriages were valid, they should be recognized as such by the state and federal government and their employers should recognize them as such,” Triplett said. “It’s my hope ultimately when MSU has done their due diligence and they’ve looked at the situation they will make the same conclusion I have.

“They should recognize (these couples) for all university purposes like taxable treatment of benefits people have access to, the health benefits people have access to, things like that,” he said.

MSU offered benefits to couples joined in domestic partnerships before 2004, when Michigan voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as one man and one woman. The amendment barred any public employer from offering identical benefits to same-sex couples.

Director for the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives Paulette Granberry Russell previously told The State News she viewed the ruling as a positive one, but said it is not yet clear whether MSU can offer same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

LGBT on campus

Biomedical laboratory diagnostics freshman Katrine Weismantle hasn’t come out to her parents yet.

But it’s not because she’s afraid to — Weismantle said she just hasn’t found the right time to bring it up.

"(The town I grew up in) was very liberal, where being true to yourself was encouraged and being gay was okay,” Weismantle said. “I only came out a few months ago, so I am currently ‘out’ at school but not yet at home.”

Weismantle, who is also president of Spectrum, East Neighborhood’s LGBT caucus, said she always knew there was something different about her sexuality but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

After a few heterosexual relationships, she decided she was pansexual, or attracted to people of all gender identities.

After going away to college and doing some soul-searching, she realized that she was a lesbian. She attributes her ability to come out to the support of her friends and the resources on MSU’s campus.

Just like most college-aged people, Weismantle said she thinks about marriage just as much as any other person. 

“The debate is quite interesting right now in Michigan, and I am just hoping that marriage equality can happen nationwide,” she said. “I thought that by the time I was old enough to get married that it would be legal. As a child, I didn’t think there were people in the world (who) did not believe that anyone who was in love could get married.”

Although marriage equality is on the minds of many in the LGBT community, ASMSU Representative for the Alliance of Queer & Ally Students Colin Wiebrecht said that there is still much more to be done to achieve LGBT rights.

“There are so many other struggles going on in the community, like LGBT youth homelessness and transgender issues like workplace discrimination and healthcare issues,” Wiebrecht said. “I hope that people don’t start to get apathetic toward (those) issues ... (marriage) is a big issue, but there are so many other things we need to focus on as well.” 

Pride Week

Don’t be surprised if campus seems quieter than usual on Friday — many students might be observing the national Day of Silence, a day in which students across the country vow to spend 24 hours in silence, representing a desire to silence anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

Students participating can show their support by wearing a red awareness ribbon. The event also serves as a kickoff to MSU’s Pride Week.

Some of the events feature LGBT rights activists as speakers, and others are more whimsical — like glitter-bombing the rock on Farm Lane and holding a Hawaiian-themed Pride Prom for LGBT students to gather for a night of dancing.

Many of the events on campus are being sponsored by the numerous neighborhood-associated LGBT groups, one of them being People Respecting the Individuality of Students at MSU, or PRISM, which is sponsoring the Pride Prom.

Computer science sophomore Louie Zedan is the president of PRISM and said the Pride Prom is especially important to LGBT students who may not have had the chance to go to a prom in high school because of their identity. 

"(Many LGBT students) lived in an environment where it wasn’t culturally acceptable for them to attend with their significant other, or they were explicitly denied because of their identity they had shown at school, whether that means their sexual or gender identity and its expression,” Zedan said. “In that regard, we feel Pride Prom is very important to us to provide that opportunity to students where before there was none.”

Other Pride Week events address specific LGBT issues, like LGBT identities in religion.

Q-Cross, an LGBT religious group, will be hosting a panel and discussion on faith and how it intersects with LGBT people.

Graduate student and secretary for Q-Cross Jenny May said these conversations are important because of how often LGBT people are excluded from faith.

“Many LGBT students come from a religious background, and may not have felt safe expressing their sexuality or gender identity,” May said. “I think being able to find religious organizations and groups allows students to be their authentic selves and feel supported.”

Coming from a religious background and not feeling welcome in many religious groups herself, May knew she wanted to be involved in Q-Cross.

“From experiences with friends, I knew many people felt hurt when they felt rejected by their communities,” May said. “When I heard about Q-Cross, I was excited to hear there was a group that would support me in being both Christian and LGBT, not simply one or the other.”

Although each individual event is important to Pride Week, the simple act of a student being proud of their identity is a huge step for the community, LBGT Resource Center Director Deanna Hurlbert said.

"(Pride Week) is important because pride is the antithesis of shame,” Hurlbert said. “So much of the LGBT experience has been cloaked in shame. This is a way of feeling good about one’s self.”

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