Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer, here with their three children, filed the 2012 lawsuit challenging the state's ban on adoption by same-sex couples and gay marriage. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)
Detroit— County clerks in Metro Detroit and across the state are preparing for a possible influx of applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples if a landmark decision on same-sex adoption and gay marriage is handed down today by a federal judge.
Cassandra Varner and her partner, Sheri Folta, are among the couples awaiting the court hearing results.
“This is really a big deal and a long time coming,” Varner said Tuesday. She said she will be among those who plan to go to the Oakland County clerk’s office if a federal judge in Detroit rules the gay marriage ban in Michigan is unconstitutional. “It’s time for us to get in line.”
But state officials warned that even if the judge strikes down the ban on same-sex marriage, licenses won’t be immediately available.
“We would need some guidance from (state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s) office on what this ruling means for Michigan,” said Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Community Health. The department oversees the state registrar’s office, which handles guidelines for licenses and other forms given out by county clerks across the state.
At issue is a lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman brought by a lesbian couple — April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park — challenging the state’s adoption laws and ban on same-sex marriage, which was passed by voters in 2004.
The two want to share adoption of their three special needs children, but Michigan’s adoption laws allow only single people to adopt, not gay couples.
DeBoer and Rowse, both nurses, filed the lawsuit last year seeking the right to adopt. They later amended the suit to include their challenge against the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
The hearing is expected to begin at 2:30 p.m. at the federal courthouse downtown.
A rally supporting DeBoer and Rowse is scheduled for noon at the courthouse on West Lafayette.
The case has “picked up steam and really more than we anticipated,” Rowse said of the public support the case is garnering.
Last month, more than 150 people packed a fundraiser held at the Affirmations gay rights advocacy organization benefiting the legal fund for DeBoer and Rowse.
Friedman is expected to hear arguments and possibly could make a ruling from the bench.
In a brief filed last month, state Attorney General Bill Schuette argued Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban helps regulate sexual relationships and promote procreation.
Fourteen states have legalized same-sex marriage.
Attorneys Dana Nessel and Carole Stanyar are co-counsel in the case. Nessel said she is hoping for a ruling that will be in favor of her clients.
“The LGBT community in Michigan has been long-suffering,” Nessel said.
“We have the worst laws in the country,” she added. “We don’t have any protection for gays and lesbians. They don’t have protection in employment, education, housing ...”
Meanwhile, a number of same-sex couples waiting to legally marry in the state is expected to converge on county courthouses and seek marriage licenses if Friedman strikes down Michigan’s ban.
The organization Equality Michigan has posted online a list of county clerk offices around the state that will be offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“The possibility of same-gender marriage coming to Michigan this week is a reality that Equality Michigan has been preparing several months for,” Emily Dievendorf, Equality Michigan’s managing director, said on the group’s website.
“If marriage equality happens in Michigan, even for an hour, it won’t merely be about a piece of paper that grants legal access to equal rights and opportunities,” she said. “A historic decision this week would be an acknowledgment of the humanity of Michigan’s LGBT families.”
Supporters of overturning the ban fear a favorable ruling would open a small window for gay couples to apply for marriage licenses because opponents would file an immediate appeal or a request a stay of Friedman’s ruling.
But supporters are unfazed.
In Oakland County, calls began pouring in this week from couples seeking information on what they would need to get a marriage license. County clerk Lisa Brown said Tuesday that she had begun making preparations.
“I want to make sure we have the proper paperwork and staff,” Brown said. One of those changes on the marriage license would be gender designation. Currently, the application for a marriage license lists the marrying parties as “male” and “female.”
The Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware of The Church of the Good Shepherd in Ann Arbor said she will be ready and prepared to marry same-sex couples at the Washtenaw County Courthouse.
“We are coming together as clergy to slow our solidarity for the LGBT community,” Dean-Ware said Tuesday.
“We stand strong in our faith but we realize that when we sign a marriage license we are acting as an agent for the state.”
Dean-Ware, whose congregation is part of the United Church of Christ denomination, said there will be other clergy, who will be waiting to marry gay and lesbian couples, too.
“We’re fighting for their civil rights as best as we can, particularly since the loudest Christian voices have been hateful and mean-spirited,” added Dean-Ware.
A favorable ruling, however, will have little effect in the Catholic church, leaders said Tuesday.
For gay Catholics who think a ruling in favor of same-sex marriages will allow them to marry in the church, “that’s not going to happen,” said Archdiocese of Detroit spokesman Joe Kohn.
“This is a legislative matter and to us it’s a sacramental issue,” Kohn said. “(The ruling) is not going to impact the sacrament of the church.”