Michigan same-sex marriage case goes to Supreme Court

A landmark case challenging the status quo of same-sex marriage in America is moving from Michigan to the Supreme Court.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park, Mich., along with couples from other states, filed the case, Deboer v. Snyder, because they are prevented from jointly adopting their three children by not being legally acknowledged as a couple.

In March, a federal judge overturned the ban on same-sex marriage that Michigan voters passed in 2004, declaring it unconstitutional, but the decisions were reversed on Nov. 6 by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rules Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Many circuit courts across the country have overturned bans on same-sex marriage, but the opposite decision by the regional court has brought it to the highest court in the nation.

“When different courts are making opposite decisions, it’s almost always a signal for the Supreme Court to take a case,” said Kevin den Dulk, a political science professor at Calvin.

Before the ban was put back in place, hundreds of same-sex couples were legally married, though those marriages are now nullified.

Michigan has some of the tightest regulations on same-sex relationships in the country, and its law limiting adoptions by same-sex couples has wide-reaching impacts.

According to a press release, DeBoer and Rowse fostered and adopted three children with special needs. However, only one parent is legally able to adopt each child. The current Michigan adoption laws dictate that two same-sex parents must adopt children independently rather than jointly, which can lead to a parent losing any right to custody of a child in the case of the other parent’s death.

“I lose the right to make medical decisions for my boys,” DeBoer says. “I can’t enroll my boys in school. I am on an emergency card at school — I am listed as just an emergency contact person. I am not a parent. I am nothing.”

The Supreme Court has stated they will only be deciding on two specific constitutional issues: “the power of the states to ban same-sex marriages and to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in another state.”

On behalf of the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a statement that the department will file a “friend of the court” brief that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans.

“It is time for our nation to take another critical step forward to ensure the fundamental equality of all Americans — no matter who they are, where they come from or whom they love,” wrote Holder.

“Practically speaking, there wouldn’t be many huge changes in Grand Rapids because there are already many same-sex couples in committed relationships in Grand Rapids, and there are anti-discrimination laws on the books,” explained Professor den Dulk. “The city may have to change some ordinances, but the real impact will be on the culture of the city rather than the organization of government.”

Though Washington is welcoming the change, the implications of the Supreme Court decision may be felt acutely in West Michigan, according to den Dulk.

“Overturning the ban would be felt more strongly in areas like Kent and Ottawa counties, which are more conservative. I think less of how the city of Grand Rapids would respond and more of how churches would respond. I can imagine churches having some religious freedom questions, and those will have to be worked out in court.”

Preliminary briefs submitted to the Supreme Court are due February 27, with following briefs due March 27 and April 17. The hearing is set for April, with the decision expected in June.