Same-sex marriage hearing to be held Thursday in downtown Detroit

ACLU: State violates same-sex couples' due process, equal protection rights


DETROIT, – While locals wait for a federal appeals court to decide the fate of Michigan's gay marriage ban, a different debate will play out in downtown Detroit Thursday.

What happens to the hundreds of same-sex couples in Michigan who tied the knot during the brief window gay marriage was legal in the state when they said I do.

"When we first got together 28 years ago this wasn't even on our radar," said Keith Orr.

For Orr and Martin Contreras, the word "husband" has so much power.

"It's a strong word. It means a lot," Orr said. "To call each other 'husband' or 'spouse' -- it packs a big wallop. It means something. I was in the hospital recently for some minor testing, but they were asking who is here with me. I say, '(My) husband.' They say, 'Oh, significant other.' 'No, husband,' and that means something different."

The couple owns the Out Bar in Ann Arbor.

Contreras and Orr were among 300 other local same-sex couples who were married in March after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on marriage equality and before the sixth circuit court of appeals put the decision on hold.

"When the window came we jumped on as quickly as we could," Orr said. "It was a pretty amazing experience over here at the Washtenaw County Courthouse."

But the state doesn't recognize their marriage. That's why the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit on the behalf of eight couples, including Contreras and Orr, who were legally married during the window. The ACLU is arguing that the state is violating the couples' due process and equal protection rights by refusing to recognize the marriages.

"I don't know of any case where a legally performed wedding or marriage has taken place, where a court hasn't said, 'You have to recognize that,'" Orr said. "I feel pretty good about it. But if you're in court, you never know how it's going to play out."

Orr will be front row at Thursday's hearing -- the beginning of what he said he knows will be an uphill battle to gain power of that one word.

"We're in it for the long haul," Orr said. "We've been together for 28 years. I suspect we can wait another year or two if that's what it takes."