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After Supreme Court rulings, advocates ready to fight for gay rights in Michigan

Aimee Hechler

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage don’t really change the legal status of same-sex couples in Michigan. In 2004, voters amended the Michigan Constitution to enact a sweeping ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But there’s a lot happening on the issue in courts, the Legislature, and on the campaign trail.

The Supreme Court’s decision returns gay marriage battles to Michigan and the 34 other states that prohibit same-sex marriage.

Gay rights groups here have set their sights on November of 2016. That’s when they hope to run a ballot question to reverse the state’s gay marriage ban. 

“I believe the votes absolutely will be there in 2016 for us to repeal that constitutional ban,” said Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan. She says gay rights advocates will use the time to organize, fundraise, and persuade.  

“In just those years since the 2004 ban was put into place, there has been a complete reversal in terms of the public position on this issue,” Dievendorf commented.

Gary Glenn of the American Family Association is one of the drafters of the Michigan amendment.

“We’re confident that the people of Michigan will continue to support what is best for society, what’s best for children, and that is to continue to define marriage constitutionally as only between one man and one woman,” said Glenn.

Glenn says he does not believe public opinion is shifting to get behind same-sex marriage.

But a lot of politicians do. Democrats, in particular, see this as the moment to push for LGBT rights. Because Democrats are in the minority in Lansing, these proposals are more about making a point than a policy.

But, at a rally in Ann Arbor following the U.S. Supreme Court decision, state Representative Jeff Irwin said it’s an important point to make.

“What we still need to see progress on are equal rights for issues like adoption, equal rights for issues like benefits and employment,” Irwin said.

But the next big development in Michigan could take place in a federal court in Detroit. April DeBoer is asking Judge Bernard Friedman to grant her and her partner the right to jointly adopt the children they’re raising together.  

"As we’ve always said, this isn’t a case about our marriage,” DeBoer said. "This is case about our children and the civil rights of our children, and we’re hoping that Judge Friedman has received the answers that he needs and the guidance and the guidance that he needs to overturn this, so that our children have the same rights as everybody else."

But this case could be about more than just adoption rights. That’s because the judge opened the case to arguments on whether marriage is a fundamental right – that is, one that’s so basic it cannot be legislated away or denied by voters in an election.

So, Judge Friedman could rule just on Michigan’s adoption law. Or he could rule on the bigger question of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. And that could set the case on a path to the nation’s highest court.

Carole Stanyar is an attorney for DeBoer and her partner. She says they’re ready for that. “The clients do want to help other people, and they would be willing to go the distance on this,” Stanyar commented.

Judge Friedman has promised a quick decision now that the U.S. Supreme Court makes its rulings. 

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