'It's a little surreal,' says newly wed Ingham woman

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Mason — Dawn Chapel and Lee Chaney exchanged marriage vows before Ingham County Clerk Barbara Byrum within minutes of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan's ban on same-sex unions.

The Mason couple, together 10 years, volunteered to be the first couple wed by Byrum, a Democrat who has been advocating for gay marriage rights.

"Two years ago, we decided we wanted to take this step," said Chaney, whose two grown sons currently live with them and attended their wedding at the Ingham County Courthouse.

The lawn in front of historic building on the Mason town square was filled with media, couples and their family members. Byrum pledged to keep her office open as long as there were partners wanting to link their wedding day to the date of the historic ruling. At 7:04 p.m., she tweeted that two families had just arrived. She said she issued 26 marriage licenses and performed 16 marriages Friday.

Among them were Lauren Brown and Lindsey Wren — now officially Lindsey Brown Wren — of East Lansing. They were married outdoors on the front steps by their pastor, the Rev. Nicolette Siragusa of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Grand Ledge.

The couple had been waiting and hoping for a favorable ruling, which they thought more likely would come on Monday.

"It's a little surreal," said Brown. "We were actually driving to look at wedding reception places and had to pull over because we were crying. So we canceled our work and our appointments and threw on our dress clothes and came down here."

Byrum had arranged in advance for Chapel and Chaney to become the first couple married if a favorable ruling came. The Ingham clerk said she needed no legal authority beyond announcement of the Supreme Court's ruling to begin conducting courthouse weddings.

"I'm a reasonably intelligent person," she said. "I think the decision is pretty clear."

Within an hour of the Chaney-Chapel wedding, other couples began showing up with family members, balloons and cakes. The courthouse lobby was converted to a venue where couples celebrated with well-wishers.

"I'm just so excited that finally loving couples are able to be bound together in marriage, " Byrum said.

She was among clerks who opened the courthouses to conduct weddings on a Saturday morning in March 2014 after a federal judge struck down Michigan's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages.

Hundreds of gay couples raced to clerks' offices to exchange wedding vows before an appeals court challenge reinstated the ban a day later.

By then, about 300 same-sex couples had been married and others had been turned away because clerk's offices had closed.

Chapel, 54, and Chaney, 53, said they thought about being married in another state after missing that window of opportunity.

"But to get married in a different state would have meant nothing here," said Chaney, 54. "We're so glad the (U.S.) Supreme Court was making this decision. If we were just going to wait for state approval, it wasn't going to happen."

Her sons, Luke and Josh Rudd, support the union and said they are happy for their mother and Chapel.

"I'm pumped," said Luke, 22. "It's one of my coolest experiences to have it right here in Mason where we grew up. I'm so blessed to have these two women in my life. They deserve this."

Brown and Wren said they plan to have a more formal wedding attended by all of their friends and family members in about a year.

"For me it means my daughter will be able to say this is her stepmother, this is not her mother's girlfriend," said Wren, whose daughter is 9. "It has power."

"I'm hoping this (decision) means even further change — things like discrimination, things like making it safe to be an LGBTQ person in your workplace," Brown said.

"It also means LGBTQ teens will have something to look forward to. Obviously suicide is a problem in that population."