February 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Trial may redefine Michigan's gay marriage, adoption laws

Myles Shelton, 3, takes a photo of his family: moms Amanda, left, and Kay; sister Maya, 5; and Daisy the beagle. The couple would like to get married in Michigan and have the same legal protections heterosexual couples enjoy. (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Detroit – — Amanda and Kay Shelton already feel married.

They share a home, they have two children together, and they exchanged vows in a “commitment ceremony” in 2000.

Amanda Shelton, a Beverly Hills attorney, said being able to marry Kay, a stay-at-home mom and college student who has taken her surname, would give them the same legal protections heterosexual couples enjoy.

“Our kids will be able to see us get married legally,” she added.

Like many other gay and lesbian couples in Michigan, the Sheltons are invested in the outcome of a case brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple, seeking to change the state’s marriage and adoption laws.

Their trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

The case before Judge Bernard Friedman seeks to overturn Michigan’s marriage amendment, which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

The amendment to the state constitution was approved by voters in 2004.

Originally, DeBoer and Rowse sued the state and Gov. Rick Snyder, seeking to overturn the same-sex adoption ban. They later amended their lawsuit to include the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“We’re eagerly waiting for the trial to be heard, and we’re both waiting for the day where our marriage can be legal. That way our children can legally have two parents,” said the 42-year-old DeBoer. “

The couple’s attorneys, Dana Nessel and Carol Stanyar, said they will present witnesses who will testify that same-sex couples can “parent every bit as well as heterosexual couples.”

“I’m hopeful that we’re going not going to be the only state where the court has examined the evidence and not rendered a decision to strike down the ban on same-sex marriages,” said Nessel.

Meanwhile, a coalition of ministers opposing legalizing gay marriage and same-sex adoption plans a news conference today to express support for the Michigan marriage amendment.

“We, over 100 pastors and Christian leaders from not only Detroit, but across the state of Michigan, want to send a message that there are yet still pastors in city and state — in truth, the overwhelming majority of pastors — who stand by both our Michigan Constitution and our Judeo-Christian values,” said the Rev. Lennell Caldwell of First Baptist World Changers International Ministries.

“We believe that marriage between one man and one woman creates the best possible environment for the health and wellness of children. While we agree that every American has a right to choose to live as he or she wants, no one is entitled to redefine marriage.”

Michigan is hardly the first state battleground over same-sex marriages. Seventeen states have legalized them. But there already have been challenges to recent court rulings on the issue.

If Friedman overturns the ban on gay marriage and same-sex adoption, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who also is named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit, is expected to immediately appeal the decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where a similar Ohio case is under appeal.

In September, Schuette filed a brief in the case, stating that “one of the paramount purposes of marriage in Michigan — and at least 37 other states that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman — is, and has always been, to regulate sexual relationships between men and women so that the unique procreative capacity of such relationships benefits rather than harms society.”

Baptist Bishop Allyson Abrams, who commutes between homes in Detroit and Maryland, is among those hoping gay couples will have a chance to legally marry once the judge makes his ruling.

Abrams, 43, made national headlines last fall when she announced to the congregation at Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit that she had married a woman.

“It is an experience I will not forget,” said Abrams, who resigned after a backlash from some members of her congregation.

Abrams and her spouse, Diana Williams, went to Iowa in October to get married.

Abrams said she wishes she could have married in Michigan but hopes that others here will be able to do so soon.

“I want to see couples be able to experience marriage equality and have the opportunity for them to get all the benefits of marriage and the security it offers,” said Abrams.

Richard Harris, 52, and his spouse, 48-year-old Michel LaSage of Farmington Hills, will also watch the trial with keen interest. The two also advocate legalizing gay marriage in Michigan.

They were joined in a commitment ceremony in August but are hoping to get married in Michigan if the ban is lifted.

“The benefits would be huge as far as we and many of our friends go,” said Harris.

“We have a minor child that if Michel, his father, would pass, I would have no rights to him.”

Harris added that “as far as tax benefits go, we all know it is better to file as married rather than single,” and that if one of them were to die “the other would have no rights to what should be rightfully theirs if we were married.”


Amanda,left, and Kay Shelton look at the photo their son, Myles, 3, took. ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)