Judge to be 1st elected Kent Co. official in same-sex marriage

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EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – For 26 years, District Court Judge Sara Smolenski has represented rural Kent County.

For 27 years, she has been in a committed relationship with her partner, Linda.

Now, thanks to a June U.S. Supreme Court decision, Smolenski will be getting married this weekend.

“Performing marriages is really one of the fun things about this job – I never was able to legally be married and now I can and I’m taking advantage of that civil right,” said Smolenski, who will exchange vows at the age of 58.

Smolenski said she has never made a secret of her sexuality.

“I really don’t think it has anything to do with my job, other than a part of who I am, like being Polish, or blond, or being an athlete from Michigan,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski said she and her partner will be married in a civil ceremony at an undisclosed location that will include about 200 friends and family members.

Smolenski’s father and brother both served as judges.

Stephanie White, executive director of Detroit-based Equity Michigan, said it is important and newsworthy when high-profile people like an elected judge exercise rights that people outside the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer community take for granted.

White said there are other judges and elected officials elsewhere she is aware of who are in same-sex marriages, but she does not know of anyone tracking such relationships.

White said the most important progress will come when same-sex marriage stops being newsworthy.

Smolenski said she and her partner decided against traveling out of the state years ago to get married.

“We chose to wait for Michigan because we live here. We hoped could wait for our churches, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen – neither of our churches would allow our marriage,” Smolenski said fighting back tears. “This is emotional, but we are very happy and the support that we feel from our family and our friends is overwhelming; it’s wonderful.”

Smolenski remains in office until 2020 when she can run again for the countywide judgeship.

Smolenski said as a judge, she knows she represents communities with diverse LGBTQ policies, from her hometown of East Grand Rapids, which protects gay and transgender people from discrimination, to Byron Township, which does not.

“I don’t take away that they have the right to their opinion. I don’t agree with that opinion if they’d vote against you because of that, because you’re married to a woman, but honestly I don’t think it will. But I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” Smolenski said with a smile. “Good thing I have 26 years in.”

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