May 28 2013 12:00 AM

Ingham County register of deeds gives legal weight to same-sex marriage, a first in the state

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, right, marries his partner, Brad Rakowski, in Windsor, Ontario in 2004. Courtesy photo.

Tuesday, May 28 — Later today, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope and his husband will file an affidavit with the Ingham County Register of Deed’s Office securing their property rights as a married couple. But they’ll be using their Canadian marriage license as a backing document — a first in the state of Michigan, where same sex marriage is not legally recognized. 

“This is going to be a big deal,” said Emily Dievendorf, managing director of Equality Michigan, an LGBT advocacy group. “This is something that may set some type of precedent or at the very least start a discussion and will hopefully give our local governments a way to provide some stability to the same-sex couples in our communities.”

To Dievendorf’s knowledge, nothing like this has been attempted in Michigan.

Basically what we’re doing is we’re filing an affidavit securing their property rights and using their marriage certificate as a backing document to that,” said Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. “With this, they’ll be assuming all property rights of a married couple. We think it’s an innovative idea. It certainly could use a test case. Our belief is that its a legal contract in another country that grants these rights and we don't feel like Michigan should be able to ignore this legal contract.”

Right now, same-sex couples are forced to go through lengthy legal processes to secure their property rights as a couple, Swope said. These are protections that are automatically granted to a man and a woman if they are married. He said the hope is that other same-sex couples will be able to take their marriage licenses from Canada or another state and follow a similar process, which would protect the couple’s control over property in the event of an illness or death.

Swope and his husband, Brad Rakowski, celebrated their ninth anniversary on Friday. They were married in 2005 in Windsor, Ontario, with the skyline of Detroit as the backdrop to their ceremony.

“We have some property we own jointly and durable power of attorney and those various documents that can be very extensive to put together with an attorney,” Swope said. “When people get married, those are automatic, including property rights for real estate. We feel that by filing our marriage certificate as a document with our property record, it will help secure that and will make it easier for others who may not have gone through all the steps we have.”

Hertel said he expects there to be a challenge to the interpretation of the filing.

“We expect there will be challenges. I don’t expect this is something where the other side will roll over on,” he said. “We’re kind of in uncharted waters here. Hopefully this raises a good political point that it’s a matter of equal protection and fairness and same-sex couples shouldn’t have to jump through all these hoops.”