Same-sex couples married last year during brief window in Michigan celebrate anniversaries

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DETROIT — Families and friends gathered Sunday in four Michigan counties to celebrate the anniversary of about 300 same-sex couples who wed last year during a brief legal window as a result of a challenge to Michigan's constitutional ban on gay marriages.

The marriages took place March 22, 2014, in Ingham, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw counties, where clerks chose to open their doors to accommodate couples. It happened in the hours between a federal district judge's ruling overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban and a federal appeals court decision freezing its implementation.

Now that case and others are before the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments April 28.

"Every time we introduce each other, 'This is my husband,' it has such a powerful impact," said Greg McNeilly, celebrating with husband Douglas Meeks at Midtown Brewing Co. in Lansing.

Regina Calcagno, spokeswoman for Michigan for Marriage, said Sunday "recognizes a wonderful moment in history, when just over 300 couples — for just over eight hours — were able to be married." She spoke by phone as she prepared for about 100 anniversary celebrants at Affirmations Community Center in the Oakland county community of Ferndale.

Despite the cakes and the champagne, Calcagno said it was a "bittersweet" event because of the fact that the same-sex marriage ban remains in effect in Michigan.

"Thousands of couples are being denied their equal rights," she said.

The difference between those who made it through the window last year and those who didn't was a matter of luck as much as anything, Calcagno said. They not only had to be "in the right county" but also had to "wake up early enough."

The earliest of the early, she said, were Glenna Dejong and Marsha Caspar, who were married at 8:05 a.m. by Ingham County Clerk Barbara Byrum, five minutes after opening her office on March 22, 2014.

Doug Meeks and McNeilly had been together about 11 years before they made their relationship a legal one last year in Ingham County.

"It's been amazing," said McNeilly, a 43-year-old executive with a Grand Rapids venture capital business. "It's been a wonderful year for both of us."

"Marriage does matter, and we're both very lucky to be able to get married a year ago," said Meeks, a 38-year-old lawyer in private practice in Lansing. "The word marriage — there are ideas behind it like loyalty, commitment, love."

While hoping for a Supreme Court ruling declaring marriage a right nationwide for same-sex couples, Calcagno said it's more a question of when, not if, Michigan recognizes gay marriage.

"We've seen a tremendous shift across the spectrum, age-wise and across the religious faiths," she said.

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