August 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Court of appeals in Cincinnati hears Midwest gay marriage ban cases

Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer, celebrate the March ruling. They'll be in court this week. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)

The eyes of Michigan and three other Midwest states will be on Cincinnati this week when the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments on gay marriage bans.

It is a historic first for the court: A three-judge panel will hear separate arguments Wednesday in same-sex marriage cases from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee — all four states in the court’s jurisdiction.

Michigan will go first, followed by Ohio, Kentucky and then Tennessee.

Michigan’s case is an appeal of a March ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who ruled this state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Friedman’s ruling followed a nine-day trial in February. Hazel Park nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse challenged Michigan’s ban. They want to legally marry and adopt each other’s children.

Michigan voters in 2004 adopted the so-called Michigan Marriage Amendment, which declares that marriage is between “one man and one woman.” Friedman said it denies same-sex couples equal protection under the law.

“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage. Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law,” Friedman wrote in his March 21 ruling. More than 300 couples received marriage licenses in several Michigan counties before an appeals judge imposed a stay on Friedman’s ruling, shutting the brief gay marriage window at least temporarily.

DeBoer and Rowse will be in the Cincinnati courtroom hearing the arguments by their attorney Carole Stanyar. Michigan Solicitor General Aaron Lindstrom will argue the case for the state of Michigan.

DeBoer said she is looking forward to the hearings.

“We actually feel really good about it (and) we’re excited to get to the next phase and having the right to be a complete family and for Jayne and I to get married,” DeBoer said Friday.

She added that she and Rowse will not set a date to be married until the case is fully concluded: “We’re waiting until every family in Michigan can be recognized as a family.”

Dana Nessel, DeBoer’s and Rowse’s co-counsel, said “we are very confident of a favorable outcome despite the fact that we have a very conservative circuit (court).” Nessel said there have been 29 favorable outcomes for similar same-sex cases on appeals.

Same-sex marriages are legal in 19 states, including the District of Columbia. Thirty-one states prohibit gay marriage. There are an estimated 72 lawsuits seeking to overturn those bans.

Nessel said it could be up to three months before the three-judge panel issues its opinion in the case.

The judges hearing the appeals in the case are Martha Craig Daughtrey, appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton; and Deborah L. Cook and Jeffrey S. Sutton, both appointees of President George W. Bush. Sutton reversed a district court’s ruling and reinstated a lawsuit filed against Eastern Michigan University by graduate student Julea Ward who refused to counsel students involved in same-sex relationships because of her “religious beliefs.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders have ramped up their opposition to Friedman’s ruling by filing an amicus brief in the case. The coalition of black pastors and Christian leaders who say they support “traditional marriage.”

Minister Stacy Swimp said he feels confident that the Sixth Circuit judges will reverse the rulings of “activist judges” who have “vacated the rule of law.”

If not, he says he will continue his efforts to promote “traditional” marriage and protect the Michigan Marriage Amendment.

“We’re in it for the long haul come what may,” said Swimp Friday.

A representative for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office defended the ban before Friedman, said Schuette “

is fulfilling his duty to defend the constitutional.”

“Ultimately,” said Sydney Allen, “we expect this case to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as we anticipate it will in Utah’s case which is further along than Michigan’s. We hope to see a resolution as soon as possible.”

Rallies are planned for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Cincinnati and locally to voice support for gay marriage. The Michigan rallies will be held at Renaissance Unity, 11200 East Eleven Mile in Warren; and First Presbyterian Church, 510 W. Ottawa, Lansing.