Michigan, Ohio to file briefs backing same-sex marriage

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A flurry of legal brief filings backing gay marriage in Michigan and three other Midwest states is expected Friday, the deadline for submitting supporting briefs in four closely-watched cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michigan and Ohio Democratic party leaders are expected to file briefs that embrace same-sex marriage as are prominent Republicans, including former Michigan Gov. William Milliken and former state Attorney General Mike Cox.

The actions further set the stage for the legal showdown as both sides prepare for oral arguments next month in a group of cases expected to set a legal precedent for same-sex couples across the nation.

Briefs by opponents of overturning Michigan’s ban on gay marriage are expected to be filed next month, a few weeks before court arguments April 28.

In a telephone press conference Thursday, Michigan Democratic Party leader Lon Johnson joined Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper to throw their support behind the federal lawsuits challenging gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The Michigan case involves Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse who want to legally marry. Their lawsuit began by challenging the state’s adoption law which has banned co-adoption by gay couples.

Johnson said there are same-sex couples in Michigan who have waited a long time for their constitutional right to marry.

“Here in Michigan, we’ve got too many families that have been denied liberty and justice for way too long because of such actions of Republicans like (Attorney General) Bill Schuette and (Gov.) Rick Snyder,” Johnson said Thursday. “Thousands of dollars have been wasted on frivolous lawsuits.”

Pepper added: “We don’t want to be a state that discriminates and that’s why we are arguing that these laws be struck down.”

DeBoer and Rowse’ co-counsel Dana Nessel said attorneys for the women are grateful for the support.

“We are truly humbled to have so many distinguished elected officials recognize that constitutional rights are not confined only to those who the majority of voters favor and who hold sacred the principal that equal protection of the law belongs to all our nation’s citizens,” Nessel said Thursday.

“We are delighted to finally have a date certain on which our arguments will be heard by the high court. We hope with each passing day, we are one day closer to achieving marriage equality, and the many rights which accompany it, for April, Jayne, and their children, and for the many thousands of families like theirs across this great nation.”

The briefs have been supported by 150 officeholders and others.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma, I am proud to join my colleagues in Michigan and Ohio as we continue to fight for the civil rights of all Michigan residents,” said Sen. Coleman A. Young II, D-Detroit. .”

Milliken and Cox are both part of former national GOP chairman Ken Mehlman’s amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. Cox said Thursday he put his support behind the lawsuits challenging the gay marriage bans in Michigan and other states because “it’s the right thing to do.”

“(The U.S. Supreme Court) has already moved the needle that says same-sex couples should get the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual couples,” Cox said. “It’s the right time..”

Cox said he knows he has surprised people who have supported him, but that he remains a “staunch conservative” on issues such as abortion and religious freedom. He added the GOP’s stance on gay marriage is hurting it.

“It would help the Republicans if this case was over,” Cox said. “This is not a winner for the Republican Party.”

Also expected to be submitted Friday is The People’s Brief, which has the signatures of 207,551 Americans backing gay marriage.

The Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor is filing briefs on behalf of 25,000 ministries and churches as part of the National Coalition of Black Pastors and Church Leaders. The group is against same-sex marriage and is hoping the court upholds Michigan’s ban.

In their briefs filed with court in December, the pastors argue it is wrong to redefine marriage because it “directly harms and threatens this sacred and foundational institution. There is no surer way to destroy an institution like marriage than to destroy its meaning.”

All four cases are expected to be argued before the court from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 28. The court will provide audio recording and transcripts of the arguments no later than 2 p.m. that day on the court’s website at www.supremecourt.gov.

Nearly a year ago, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s gay marriage ban calling it unconstitutional. His ruling was appealed by Schuette on behalf of the state of Michigan which has had a voter-backed ban since 2004.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Michigan’s ban in November along with those in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

About 300 gay and lesbian couples were married March 22, 2014, during a small time frame between Friedman’s ruling that struck down Michigan’s gay marriage ban and the state’s appeal to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals which put a stay on same-sex couples getting licenses.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled in January the state must recognize those marriages.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

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