March 3, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Berman: Inside court and out, same-sex marriage trial getting interesting

If you’re looking for free entertainment with a scholarly bent, it’s hard to beat the same-sex marriage trial in Detroit federal court.

One side is challenging assumptions about man-woman marriage as the only kind deserving a state seal of approval. The other is striving to preserve traditional marriage as a lofty, time-honored ideal, enshrined by law, even if ever-fewer marriages conform to those outlines.

Enter the brilliant Sherif Girgis — co-author and essayist on love, sex and marriage, Rhodes scholar, winner of college prizes for best essay on Dante. Girgis, a doctoral candidate at Princeton and law student at Yale, arrived in court Monday as a prospective expert witness, set to bolster the Michigan attorney general’s case against same-sex marriage.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman rebuffed the star student, declining to qualify Girgis as an expert witness.

Thus spectators lost the chance to hear Girgis explain theories about “the comprehensive cooperation of bodily union,” a state “which only a man and woman can form,” as he explained in a 2013 essay.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown — a defendant in the case who is ready to marry same sex-couples — testified that the marriage license law doesn’t require couples to demonstrate any kind of sublime commitment to each other. It doesn’t require an ability to procreate or an intention to raise children. It doesn’t bar convicted felons or pedophiles from marrying. It allows 16-year-olds to marry with parental consent.

Her testimony suggested that the ideal view of marriage between men and women isn’t, in fact, how the law is written.

In the courthouse hallway, Cindy Clardy, wearing a red “Marriage Equality” sweatshirt, described herself as a lay expert on marriage. Her view of wedlock is informed by personal experience, and so far as she can tell, heterosexual marriage isn’t distinctive.

“I was married to a man for 18 years and I’ve been with my partner for 15 years and neither (experience) is very different,” she said.

“Here’s what I’ve noticed: My partner doesn’t watch football. She does her own laundry. She doesn’t spend money that we don’t have, the way my husband did. She doesn’t think she needs a new car every two years no matter what.”

Clardy, who moved from Nebraska in 1994 after her divorce, worked as an industrial engineer and then as a cost estimator for Ford. She loves her partner, Jocelyn Walters, a technical writer.

But unlike the state’s almost-expert-witness Sherif Girgis, who sought to explain the purpose of marriage using the arguments of long-dead Greek philosophers, Clardy has learned from experience. At 63, she has decided that marriage is a day-in, day-out proposition, not a philosophical ideal.

“I loved my husband for 18 years. My partner doesn’t run around with girlfriends. She does her own laundry.”

Clardy isn’t a prospective expert witness, but her views on laundry and love resonate.
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