By Kate Kerbrat
Entirely East Lansing staff writer
On New Year’s Eve 13 years ago, Michael and William Sawyer-Todd exchanged rings in the same location where they had their first date. They’ve considered themselves married since then, and the only thing preventing them from being recognized as such has been state law.
That lack of recognition was changed locally last week by the passage of Ordinance 1305 in East Lansing, which recognizes domestic partnerships. Michael and William became the first couple to take advantage of the ordinance on Oct. 23 when they registered at city hall.
“If the state won’t recognize us, East Lansing is willing to do it, and I think that’s important,” said William Sawyer-Todd. “We really wanted to get recognition from somewhere in Michigan, preferably our hometown.”
East Lansing is the second city in the state to recognize domestic partnerships, the first being Ann Arbor. East Lansing was city was the first in the nation to pass an anti-discrimination law based on sexual orientation.
The history of tolerance is largely what drew 57-year-old William to East Lansing. He graduated from the University of Central Florida and moved to East Lansing in 1980.
“I came out of the closet and ran.”
“The anti-discrimination ordinance is what kept me here. The city’s always respected LGBT people, and it’s just another step with the registry,” said William.
The registry was pushed forward by Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett, who was aided by City Clerk Marie Wicks in drafting the ordinance.
“We looked at Ann Arbor’s registry and we tweaked it a bit to fit East Lansing,” said Wicks. “I think ours is a bit better. They have a form, but I didn’t want our domestic partnership registry to be a form. I wanted it to look like a marriage license as closely as possible.”
Wicks said she wants to make the experience as special as possible for people who choose to register. While the process itself is short, she urges those interested in registering to call ahead so that her office can prepare, and to bring family and friends as witnesses.
Michael and William said they were touched by how the city handled their registration.
“They made it really nice for us, they gave us a nice document for it,” said Michael. “I guess it’s similar to what they do for a marriage license. That really meant a lot to us, that the staff really cared about it.”
Wicks said she plans to do the same thing for all couples that come in to be registered. The certificate is signed by the couples and given to them in a presentation folder, while she tries to make the process ceremonial.
William and Michael felt that recognition from their city is just another step in their relationship. The couple plans to go to New York next month to officially marry. Once they do, they’ll have federal and local recognition of their relationship.
Pieces of paper do little to change the way the couple feel about their relationship. A much bigger trial for them has been Michael’s multiple sclerosis, though they said it has only brought them closer.
“There was a nurse to his specialist a while back, and every time she would see him she would say ‘are you still together?’ It really started to irritate the living crap out of me that she would ask that,” said William. “She finally confided to Michael that, in a lot of cases with MS, the spouse would leave. That really overwhelmed me, because I couldn’t imagine any circumstance of anybody doing that.”