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Michigan lesbian couple asks US Supreme Court to settle gay marriage question

Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong with Frizzy. They were the first same-sex couple married in Michigan on March 22, after a federal judge struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The ban was restored by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Rick Pluta

The legal team for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse filed its appeal today with the U.S. Supreme Court. They want the court to rule that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and others like it across the country are unconstitutional.

This is speedy timing as Supreme Court appeals go. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled less than two weeks ago, upholding same-sex marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The Ohio and Tennessee same-sex marriage appeals were filed last week. Now, Kentucky, and Michigan have filed. The goal is to get the case on the Supreme Court’s calendar in the current term.

“We’re very, very hopeful that the Supreme Court will take one of our cases,”said Dana Nessel, an attorney for DeBoer and Rowse, the lesbian couple from Hazel Park who sued the state of Michigan over its same-sex marriage ban. The two nurses want to get married so they can jointly adopt the children they’re raising together.

This case could settle the question, once and for all

“When we first brought this case, we vowed to do anything we had to in order to protect our children and our family, even if that meant having to take our case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said DeBoer. “That day is finally here, and we hope the court sees fit to accept our case and provide the same security to our family that other families count on.”

The Supreme Court recently refused a slew of same-sex marriage cases. But, those were all cases where federal appeals courts struck down marriage bans and allowed same-sex marriages. The Sixth Circuit decision means that different rules now apply in different parts of the country.

“We believe that the Supreme Court is now in a position where they really do have to make a decision and it would be wise of them to take this so there can be a resolution on this issue for all 50 states,” said Nessel. She says if the court decides at its Jan. 9 conference to take the case, there could be arguments in the spring and a decision likely before the end of June. Otherwise, a decision might not come until sometime in 2016, if at all.

Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJonge were the first couple in Michigan to get married on March 22. Caspar and DeJonge sued the state in a separate legal action to recognize their union because they were among the 300 gay and lesbian couples married during the window when it was legal in Michigan. They say their case isn’t about the right to get married, but the right to stay married. 

“For anyone to say my love for her is any less than a traditional husband and wife, that’s not the case,” says Caspar.

“And it’s hurtful,” adds DeJonge. “It’s about dignity and respect, really.”

They’re waiting to see if the Supreme Court will make the DeBoer case the one that settles everything. On Friday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a court filing that the Sixth Circuit decision, if it stands, means Caspar and DeJonge’s marriage is null and void.

Supporters and opponents agree: SCOTUS should hear the case

The majority opinion in the Sixth Circuit decision said same-sex marriage bans are constitutional, and it would be better for everyone if this question was hashed out through the political process. The opposition says marriage is a basic right that shouldn’t be subject to the whims of voters or politics.

"It would be wise of them to take this so there can be a resolution on this issue for all 50 states."

But there is something all sides seem to agree on: that the Supreme Court should take the case and make a decision one way or the other. Schuette, on behalf of the state, says he will not oppose the DeBoer filing. He also wants the Supreme Court to settle the question.

Gary Glenn co-authored the Michigan Marriage Amendment and 10 years ago helped lead the campaign to convince voters to put it in the state constitution. He also thinks it’s something the court needs to rule on.

“This has historically been and in the future should be determined by the states,” he said. “I don’t think a single federal judge or even five justices of the Supreme Court have legitimate constitutional authority to overrule, in our case, the votes of 2.7 million voters.”

Glenn says if the Supreme Court takes the case and upholds the amendment, he’s ready to defend it against an anticipated ballot drive to repeal it in two years.

There are no guarantees on what the court might do, says Dan Nessel.

“I don’t know that they’ll take our case,” she says. “I don’t know that they’ll take any case this term.” 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.