As the release of the Supreme Court’s decision on several consolidated same-sex marriage cases draws near, preparations for the decision that may legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states are in full swing in the Ann Arbor community.
The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments for several consolidated cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in four different states under the case titled Obergefell v. Hodges in April.
One case the courts are considering includes DeBoer vs. Snyder, challenges Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. In January 2012, Michigan residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, challenging Michigan’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples.
DeBoer and Rowse separately adopted one son and two daughters, respectively, but were unable to jointly adopt their children because Michigan law does not recognize same-sex marriages, and only grants joint parent adoption rights to married couples.
The Court’s decision in DeBoer vs Snyder, and the all other consolidated cases, in part will determine if the Court considers the 14th amendment to require states to recognize marriages between same-sex couples.
The decision is expected in the coming weeks before the end of session, possibly as early as Thursday morning.
Ann Arbor City Council approved the closure of Fourth Avenue from Catherine to Kingsley on the day the court’s decision is released, per a request from the Jim Toy Community Center, an Ann Arbor based gay rights advocacy group. The street will remain closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during which supporters are expected to rally along with plaintiffs DeBoer and Rowse.
Hopeful that the Supreme Court will decide in favor of same-sex marriage, Councilmember Julie Grand (D-Ward 3) said a decision against couples represented in the cases could result in the loss of valued Ann Arbor residents. In an interview with the Daily, Grand expressed her support of closing roads in anticipation of the Ann Arbor and larger Michigan response to the decision’s release.
“It puts our state, and by extension Ann Arbor, at a disadvantage if we don’t have marriage equality,” Grand said. “I believe we have been losing really valuable residents who are making important contributions to our community…because of this issue. For moral and ethical reasons, of course, I want to see us have marriage equality. I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
In addition to reactions that may occur on the closed streets downtown, attorneys representing DeBoer and Rowse will appear in Braun Court to answer questions and offer remarks on the court’s decision at noon. DeBoer and Rowse will also offer remarks outside Braun Court, where supporters are expected to rally beginning at 5:30 p.m. The event is anticipated to garner national media attention.
Brad O’Connor, president of the Jim Toy Community Center, said he is both cautious and optimistic of the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision.
“Obviously we want this decision to go in our direction, and we hope that it will, but we have to prepare that it won’t. And we have to plan for both, and planning for both is almost the same because we need to figure out what our next steps are,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor stressed that marriage equality does not end the fight for LGBTQ rights in Michigan and the U.S.
“If they do give us a positive ruling in favor of marriage equality, then we have to answer the question of adoptions, we have to answer the question of expanding Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act so that an employer can’t fire you for marrying your life partner, which will still be legal,” O’Connor said. He also mentioned the issue of bullying of LGBTQ students in high schools and the issue of transgender rights.
O’Connor said the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision is also vital in validating same-sex marriage across the U.S.
“It’s affirming that the Supreme Court recognizes that our relationships are valid and should be recognized in all states — not just two thirds of the country,” said O’Connor, whose own marriage license, which was issued in Illinois, is currently invalid in the state of Michigan.
The Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office, which is responsible for issuing marriage licenses, has also been preparing ahead of the court’s ruling. In the case that the Courts rule in favor of the couple’s, marriage license forms would need to be adjusted.
Ed Golembiewski, who is deputy clerk of the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office, said the office updated marriage licenses and the documentation system after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and adoption in March 2014.
“A lot of the work that we needed to do to get ready was done already before March of last year when we opened up on that Saturday morning and issued about 73 licenses,” he said. “We needed to get ready and create gender neutral marriage licenses and we’re ready with that now. And we had to update or document management system that we use to process marriage licenses, which we’ve done already so we’re basically ready to go.”
He also said while the clerk’s office is expecting a large crowd if the Court’s rule in favor of the couples represented in the cases, he is confident everyone will be flexible and agreeable.
“Last time, when we opened on that Saturday morning, and we had a real significant crowd we found everybody was exceedingly patient and very happy to be there and very easy to work with,” he said. “We’ll be ready to do some crowd management, but other than that, we’re just waiting and we’re ready.”
In an interview with the Daily, Rep. Jeff Irwin (D- Ann Arbor) said he is hopeful that the Supreme Court will vote in favor of marriage equality.
“It’ll help take away some of the stigma I think that our state is experiencing because of our political stance against marriage equality and the sorts of things that are happening like theadoption law that the governor just signed,” Rep. Irwin said.
In these final moments before the Supreme Court’s decision, Rep. Irwin said he would like to recognize the work of advocates for marriage equality.
“I feel like credit is due to all the people who have been fighting for these rights over all the years, and even coming out to their families and friends and normalizing the lifestyles of same-sex individuals.”