Who are Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer? On February 25, 2014, Jayne and April may become the most recognized same-sex couple in the state as they lead the charge for same-sex marriage and adoption reform in Michigan. Currently, Michigan is one of 35 states with a state law or constitutional amendment that prohibits legal recognition of same-sex marriages and/or civil unions. In fact, in 2004, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that defined “marriage” as follows: “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for our future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as marriage or similar union for any purpose.” The amendment passed with 59% voter support. Again, we find ourselves at a crossroad here in Michigan, as well as across the United states, where the public’s views have significantly shifted since 2004. A January, 2011 poll published by the Detroit News showed that 56% of voters “said they would allow civil unions that provide the legal benefits of marriage, while 39% are also in favor of granting full equal marriage to same-sex partners.”
On Wednesday, October 16, 2013, hundreds of same-sex couples lined up at their local clerks’ offices in anticipation that the U.S District Court’s ruling might overturn the current ban on same-sex marriages. Although he did not issue a ruling at that hearing, Eastern District Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments from the parties on whether Michigan’s constitutional amendment violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which provides that no state shall deny to any person equal protection of its laws. Among the many legal protections that flow from marriage – and “denied to same-sex couples under the Michigan amendment – are intestacy and survivorship rights, worker’s compensation benefits, tax and property law benefits, family health insurance coverage, health care decision-making rights, parenting rights, and full adoption rights. DeBoer’s argument centered on the premise that “gay and lesbian citizens are entitled to the same legal status, the same legal right to be visible in the eyes of the law, as heterosexual citizens.” Further, DeBoer claimed that the Michigan amendment also deprives same-sex couples of their due process rights and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
On the other hand, Snyder relied upon a recent United States Supreme Court Case –( United States v. Windsor, which struck down substantial portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act) arguing that “Michigan has exclusive authority to govern domestic relations, and that authority should not be disrupted short of constitutional violations.” Moreover, Snyder contends that under an Equal Protection challenge, this law would satisfy a rational-basis review, asserting that “one of the paramount purposes of marriage in Michigan –is to regulate sexual relationships between men and woman so that the unique procreative capacity of such relationships benefits rather than harms society.”
“Without the right to marry or more properly, the right to choose to marry – one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one’s ‘avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship.’” –Baker v. State. The United States has made significant strides towards civil rights since the 1960’s. With respect to same-sex marriages, in 2003 Massachusetts became the first state to acknowledge civil marriage as “the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.” Moreover, on October 21, 2013, New Jersey became the latest state to join a growing civil rights movement of states recognizing same-sex marriage. Michigan may be on the verge of change, and if so, that day will have been long-awaited by Jayne Rowse, April DeBoer, and many other couples like them throughout the state. Judge Friedman has scheduled a bench trial to begin February 25, 2014. The case is DeBoer v. Snyder, #12-cv-10285; documents can be accessed at: http://www.mied.uscourts.gov/courts/DeBoervSnyder.
By: Fahd Haque, Law Clerk for Moss & Colella, P.C., in collaboration with Debra Conry, Attorney.
If you have any comments, email Fahd Haque at FHaque@mosscolella.com or Debra Conry at DConry@mosscolella.com