The most pivotal same-sex marriage case in Michigan — one that went from the Detroit courthouse to the Supreme Court of the United States — began with two women who simply wanted to adopt one another’s children.
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are a gay couple who sued the state for the right to marry in 2013.
The ban was eventually declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, and on one Saturday last March, 322 same-sex couples were wed throughout Michigan.
Neuroscience doctoral student Apryl Pooley was one of the couples married on that day last year.
Pooley and her wife had been planning to get married in a different state, but when the opportunity arose, the couple jumped at the chance to get married.
When they got to the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason Pooley said there were about 50 couples, and genuine happiness in the air.
“It was almost a sigh of relief that you could just feel when you walked into the building,” Pooley said. “Like ‘Finally, we can do this.’”
But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette then filed an appeal in the 6th Circuit, and a stay was placed on the declaration. Although the marriages were eventually recognized, the battle was far from over.
On Monday night, more than 100 people participated in a vigil hosted at the Capitol to show support to same-sex couples who married in Michigan.
The next day, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the cases of same-sex married couples from Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky.
What’s at stake
“The Supreme Court will be hearing people argue — the lawyers of Michigan will argue that the 6th Circuit should be upheld,” MSU law professor Mae Kuykendall said. “People who represent the plaintiffs will argue the 6th Circuit is wrong.”
On Jan. 15, U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith recognized the validity of the same-sex couples already married in Michigan and ordered the state to grant the benefits given under the state law to married couples.
In February Gov. Rick Snyder said he was not going to appeal the U.S. District Court of Appeals decision of recognizing the validity of the same-sex couples who got married during the marriage window.
“I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and it’s vitally important for an expedient resolution that will allow people in Michigan, as well as other states, to move forward together on the other challenges we face,” Snyder said in a statement in February. “This is an issue that has been divisive across our country. Our nation’s highest court will decide this issue.”
Planning for the future
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, an advocate for same-sex marriage and one of several clerks to open their courthouse to marry same-sex couples after Friedman’s decision, said she is optimistic the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of the couples she married.
“I think marriage between a man and a woman, that definition is going to be ruled unconstitutional,” Byrum said. “I believe the Supreme Court believes the same thing that so many of us out here do, and that it is high time we no longer have second-class citizens.”
But there are other couples who are still waiting to be married.
Jocelyn Walters and Cindy Clardy, who came to Lansing for Monday’s vigil, are already planning their wedding, They plan to get married in 2020, Walters said.
“We had a commitment ceremony in 2005,” Walters said. “We’ve been together 16 years.”
Pooley said she didn’t think any same-sex couples who got married last year thought it would take this long before it would be legalized.
“I know some people feel a little bit guilty, like we shouldn’t have done this until everybody could do it,” Pooley said.
Walters said although she does not feels optimistic about the U.S. Supreme Court hearings, she is hopeful they will rule in favor of same-sex couples.
“I’m hoping that it does give us our rights because I really don’t want to consider what it’ll be like if we don’t have our rights, at this point forward,” Walters said. “Either way it is going to be a big change in the state, in the country, in the history.”
Walters said the marriage equality movement is going through the same obstacles the civil rights movement went through.
“There is still people out there, older than we are, that are opposed. But the rest of all are like, ‘They have rights. Why shouldn’t they? They are people just like we are,’” Walters said. “We are people just like them.”
Like Walters, Pooley said much of same-sex marriage is about looking ahead for future rights.
“From a legal standpoint, if you have a life partner, someone that you share everything with, possibly kids, finances, insurance — everything,” Pooley said. “You should be able to have those legal protections to your relationship.”
Division on day one
On the first day of the trial, the U.S. Supreme Court justices were divided when discussing if the Constitution ensures same-sex couples the right to marry.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was one of the judges who showed conflicting views when discussing gay marriage. Kennedy has been the decisive vote in other same-sex marriage cases.
“This definition has been with us for millennia, and I think it’s very difficult for this court to say ‘Oh well, we know better,’” Kennedy said, referring to the definition of marriage between a man and a woman and not same-sex couples.
Kuykendall explained possible outcomes of the SCOTUS case.
“The Supreme Court can make the decision of making every state issue (same-sex) marriage licenses, or making states recognize marriages that already happened,” she said. “And the third (action) is making other states recognize same-sex marriages that occurred out of state.”
Kuykendall said the court might choose a cautious path, voting yes to only one or two of those issues and not all three.
Watching from afar
Michigan for Marriage coalition manager Gina Calcagno said same-sex couples in Michigan couldn’t be more excited for their day in court.
“We are very cautiously optimistic that this case will give us a national resolution on marriage, and that all people will have their families recognized,” Calcagno said.
Many members of the MSU community has kept its eye on the issue from the beginning.
“There’s always this hope that it’s going to happen eventually,” Alex Lange, assistant director at MSU’s LBGT Resource Center, previously told The State News in reference to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Social work sophomore Katrine Weismantle said she predicts a favorable decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The opposing side has run out of any compelling arguments,” Weismantle said. “Same-sex couples’ personal stories are the center of this case and their personal stories are critical in a civil rights case such as this.”
Social work graduate student Jenny May is hoping that the Supreme Court’s ruling will go beyond just legalization.
May is a bisexual student and is a member of Q-Cross, an organization on campus for Christian LGBT students. She has been following the case closely.
“I hope that the final decision written in June will not only be in favor of same-sex marriages, but also provide support for LGBT issues to receive heightened security under the law,” May wrote in an email.
She also said even a favorable ruling won’t necessarily change the prejudices faced.
“Coming from a Queer Christian perspective, marriage equality would be wonderful, but it is not the end of discrimination against the LGBT community,” May said.
Staff reporter Maria Braganini contributed to this report.