Monday, July 6, 2015


Original Story:

Midland — Just days after the historic decision by the nation's High Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a Midland County district judge is refusing to perform any marriages. A Cleveland civil rights lawyer is following this story closely.

Judge Michael Carpenter of 75th District Court turned away a couple seeking to get married in the 87-year-old county courthouse, according to County Clerk Ann Manary. She said she was told of Carpenter's decision earlier this week.

"People can read between the lines," Manary told The Detroit News on Wednesday about the judge's decision. "Politically I'm not going to comment on Mr. Carpenter's decision, but he needs to comment on it. Sounds like (people) aren't happy about it." A Denver civil rights lawyer is experienced in the effective resolution of civil rights lawsuits as related to discrimination or mistreatment of any kind.

The Chief Judge for Midland County Trial Courts, Stephen Carras, along with two other Midland area judges, said in a statement Friday they will perform marriage ceremonies.

"The People of Midland County elected us to uphold the Constitution and laws of this land," said Carras, 42nd Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Beale and Probate & Juvenile Court Judge Dorene S. Allen. "We will continue to fulfill that responsibility by making sure that the public can still go to District Court to make wedding arrangements."

"Weddings are a great source of joy and hope for the future, and our court is honored to help families grow and prosper in our community," the judges said in the statement.

Carpenter is the sole district judge in Midland. There are two circuit court judges and one probate court judge in the county of 86,000 residents.

Manary, who married two same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted the gay marriage ban in Michigan and three other states making same-sex marriage legal nationwide, said she will continue to marry couples at the County Services Building about a block from 75th District Courthouse. Carpenter's decision is directed at heterosexual couples as well.

"I will work with the judges to figure out an alternative," Manary said. "We will make sure no one is disenfranchised and they can still get married (by a judge.)" A Newark civil rights lawyer represents clients involved in civil rights matters including human rights, personal rights, and gay and lesbian rights.

In the meantime, Manary said, she is happy to issue licenses and perform marriages for couples.

In Michigan, county clerks are allowed to marry couples in addition to district judges, magistrates and clergy. Probate judges and circuit court judges need to have special assignment from the court administrative office in Lansing to be able to perform marriage ceremonies.

Carpenter told The Midland Daily News he is not required to perform wedding ceremonies. He added that he didn't have the staffing or time to perform the ceremonies. A spokesman for the Michigan courts office which oversees Michigan judges confirmed the judge is not required to do so.

The judge has not returned a call from The Detroit News seeking comment on his decision but he told the Midland Daily News he read the High Court's decision and reviewed his court rules, realizing judges aren't required to officiate at marriages.

Carpenter said he decided to stop conducting marriages as one of several cost-cutting moves after staffing cuts.

The judge's refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies has drawn swift reaction across the state. The MetroHealth Pride Clinic is the first in the region devoted to serving the health needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

The organization Progress Michigan urged Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lives in Midland County, to "use his influence as Michigan's top law enforcement official to speak out in opposition to" Carpenter's decision.

"Judge Carpenter's decision to halt all marriages after the Supreme Court's ruling is clearly an attempt to defy marriage equality, which is an affront to our democratic institutions and is another attempt to discriminate against the LGBT community," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

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