Legal teams set for DeBoer v. Snyder same sex case

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Four weeks before historic arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, both sides in the fight over legalizing gay marriage in Michigan have their legal teams in place.

Arguing for those who want the voter-approved ban overturned will be LGBT rights attorney Mary Bonauto. Arguing for the state will be former Michigan solicitor general John Bursch.


The challenge to Michigan's ban will be heard along with laws against gay marriage in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. All four bans were upheld in November by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Michigan case was brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two Hazel Park nurses seeking to legally marry and adopt each other's special-needs children.

All four cases are expected to be argued April 28, with each side in all four cases getting about 22 minutes to argue their positions.

Referred to by pro-gay marriage supporters as "our Thurgood Marshall," Mary Bonauto has been the Civil Rights Project director for the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders since 1990.

She also was the lead lawyer in the gay marriage case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which resulted in Massachusetts allowing same-sex couples to wed. It was the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in 2004.

Bonauto will present arguments in the DeBoer v. Snyder case for the question "Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?"

"I'm humbled to be standing up for the petitioners from Kentucky and Michigan who seek the freedom to marry," Bonauto said.

"I believe the court will give us a fair hearing, and I look forward to the day when all LGBT Americans will be able to marry the person they love."


Bursch has argued before the nation's largest court eight times —five times in 2013 alone — in the past four years, according to his bio on LinkedIn.

Bursch, who declined comment Tuesday, is a Grand Rapids-area attorney. He served as Michigan's solicitor general from March 2011 to December 2013, according to his LinkedIn page.

He is a past chairman of the American Bar Association's Council of Appellate Lawyers and has been named as one of Michigan's top 100 attorneys. He is the principal author of the Michigan Supreme Court's Guide for Counsel.

Legal experts such as University of Richmond (Virginia) law professor Carl Tobias said Bonauto and Bursch are outstanding legal minds who are very experienced at arguing cases before Supreme Court justices.

Tobias said part of the preparation for lawyers going before the U.S. Supreme Court is to participate in a "moot court," which is a practice run in a courtroom setting for a high-profile trial such as this. .

"It's a big undertaking," said Tobias of presenting cases before the nation's highest court. "(Lawyers) try to replicate it as best as they can."

The DeBoer team plans several mock arguments in preparation. It is scheduled for April 24 at Georgetown University, said attorney Dana Nessel, co-counsel for DeBoer and Rowse.

(313) 222-2027