DETROIT – Even though she is a defendant in the case, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown wants to see the Hazel Park couple who is suing for the right to marry and adopt their children be successful. That’s why she’s dismissed the county-paid corporation counsel and brought in civil rights attorneys to represent her and her office instead.
The Hazel Park lesbian couple suing the State of Michigan and the Oakland County Clerk will have their day in court Oct. 1. Federal Judge Bernard Friedman set the date July 10 after discussions with attorneys from both sides.
Brown has openly agreed with the women’s claim that they should be allowed to marry, and in February she withdrew former County Clerk Bill Bullard’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case. She’s also turned away Oakland County’s corporation council and brought in civil rights experts from Pitt-McGehee to argue on behalf of the Clerk’s office.
“It was evident that corporation counsel was following what Brooks [Patterson] wanted, not taking the path best for the County Clerk’s office,” Brown said. “I would like to see marriage equality come to fruition and I want to do all I can to see that happen. They [corporation counsel] wanted the lawsuit to be dismissed and I didn’t agree with that. As the Clerk I am the one elected to be responsible for the issuance of marriage licenses, and I am the one in the lawsuit. I need to have counsel that would represent me properly.”
Pitt-McGehee has volunteered to represent Brown pro-bono so that there is no extra cost to the taxpayers.
“I’m glad the judge has said the plaintiffs should have their day in court,” Brown said.
Brown said that she is already having new marriage license application forms drawn up that are gender-neutral so they can be ready to go should same-sex couples be able to marry.
“There are no facts in dispute in the case, and both sides agree it is a matter of law,” said Dana Nessel, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “We’re very excited that the state is moving forward and not calling any witnesses.” Nessel explained that both sides will file briefs and likely the Judge will entertain motions for summary judgment, meaning a decision without a full-blown trial.
The plaintiffs in the case, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer originally filed the suit in hopes of jointly adopting the children in their family. Though they all live together as a family, Michigan law does not allow unmarried people to jointly adopt. Thus DeBoer is the legal parent of a 3-year old girl, while Rowse has two boys, aged 3 and 4. If something happens to one of the women, the state would not recognize the other woman as a legal parent.
The family waits in limbo as the case goes through the court system. It began in March of 2012 when the women filed a case over the adoption issue. In September, at the suggestion of Judge Friedman, the women amended their case to include the right to marry, as it was that technicality that which prevented them from joint adoption under Michigan law. The state then filed a motion to dismiss, and a hearing was held March 7. The judge then decided to postpone his decision until the U.S. Supreme Court made its determination in the same-sex marriage cases, which it did June 26. The judge then dismissed the motion to dismiss, and has now set a date of Oct. 1 to potentially make his ruling.
Nessel said it is unlikely Judge Friedman will issue a ruling on Oct. 1, though the mood of the hearing may give a clue. “Even when he rules, it won’t be over,” Nessel said. “It’s probably going to be appealed no matter what the decision.”
Those who want to help Rowse and DeBoer can visit http://nesselandkessellaw.com/deboer-rowse-fund/ to learn more about their legal fee fund.