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Michigan same-sex marriage case, to be heard in Supreme Court, lacks support from activists

Feb 4, 2015

On January 16, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments this spring in four cases that could lead to legally recognizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer with three of their children.
Credit Rowse/DeBoer

One of those four cases was brought by Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer of Hazel Park. The couple hopes to marry so they can co-adopt their four children. Dana Nessel is the attorney that will help them through the case.

But the nation’s big civil rights and gay rights groups are not stepping up to support this potentially historic case. Here’s why:

Steve Friess, author of a story for Bloomberg Politics titled, “For Lawyers, A Rocky Walk Down the Gay Marriage Aisle,” joined us today. He said this case did not fit into the national strategy of gay legal groups, like Lambda Legal, which sought to bring gay marriage to the Supreme Court.

It was the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the court that oversees Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, that made this case problematic for gay legal groups. Because the Sixth Circuit is commonly identified as “a more conservative court of appeals,” national gay legal groups were concerned that bringing a case there would be problematic.

“The fear was that if a case gains steam in one of these four states – or in this case, all of these four states – that it would get up to the court of appeals, the court of appeals would knock down the idea that there was a constitutional right to gay marriage and that would create case law that would be hard to overcome,” Friess said.

However, to the surprise of many, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

“If it wasn’t for the fact the Six Circuit voted against this, if it wasn’t for the fact that they actually did what the activists were afraid of in the first place, the case wouldn’t be at the Supreme Court now, because there wouldn’t be any disagreement amongst circuits,” Friess said.

To hear more about the complex relationship between gay rights groups and Dana Nessel’s case from Michigan, listen above.