Arts & Entertainment
Stonewall Bar Association president shares passion for LGBT law
By Crystal A. Proxmire
Originally printed 5/3/2012 (Issue 2018 - Between The Lines News)
GROSSE POINTE -
The law is a complex, ever-changing puzzle, the nitty-gritty details of which intrigue attorney Timothy Cordes. Though he is married to a lovely woman and labels himself a straight guy, Cordes is president of the Stonewall Bar Association. He is both an ally and an advocate. In addition to his work at Nesi and Associates in Grosse Pointe, Cordes donates his time doing pro bono work for LGBT clients and volunteering at legal clinics.
He also takes time to share what he's learning along the way. On April 27, Cordes spoke to a theatre of Oakland Community College students and guests on the topic of LGBT and the law. The presentation was hosted by OCC Q-FLAG, a group for LGBTQ students and allies.
Cordes didn't just cover the obvious: the fact that in Michigan gays cannot marry, gays cannot jointly adopt, and gays can be fired for no other reason. He also put into perspective the way waves of LGBT related legislation happens, putting into context the patterns of oppression and the bursts of success.
"LGBT is the most dynamic area of the law right now," Cordes said. "This is the civil rights movement of our generation."
He explained that while laws are being made at the state and federal levels, much of the interpretation plays out in courtrooms over individual cases. Precedents set in cases are what give laws their meaning.
The first gay marriage case happened in 1972 when a Minnesota couple - Richard John Baker and James Michael McConnell - claimed that the state's refusal to issue them a marriage license violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution. They lost in court, appealed and lost again. They then applied to the Supreme Court, who declined the case for "want of a substantial federal question."
The first country to allow gay marriage was the Netherlands in 2001. Canadian citizens got that right in 2005. Cordes gave a quick round up of the states that have it - Massachusetts 2004, Connecticut 2008, Iowa 2009, Vermont 2009, Washington, D.C. 2009, New Hampshire 2010, New York 2011, Washington 2012 and Maryland 2012.
Cordes explained that states that don't allow same-sex marriage, like Michigan, each have their own barriers to legalization. In 1996, a case in Hawaii (Baehr v. Lewin) prompted a rash of homophobic state legislation, Michigan among them. MCL 551.3, which described limitations to who a man can marry, added on "another man" to the end. MCL 551.1 was also amended to not recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. An interesting twist is that Michigan will recognize other types of out-of-state marriages that it otherwise bans. "Twenty-five states allow marriage between first cousins, though Michigan does not. Those marriages would, however, be legal here," said Cordes. "Common law marriages have been against the law in Michigan since 1957, yet they are valid in Michigan if the parties meet the criteria of other state laws."
Cases happening in the legal system are not just about marriage equality. Judges and lawyers at all levels are tackling the LGBT issues tied with divorce, adoption, child custody, paternity rights in artificial insemination cases, job discrimination, harassment, housing issues, access to services, prisoner protections and more.
"It's going to be fascinating to watch this go on, and it's an honor to be part of it," Cordes said.
The Stonewall Bar Association is a voluntary state-wide professional association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lawyers and their allies providing a visible LGBT presence within the Michigan legal system.
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