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DETROIT – News spread quickly Mar. 2 that over 100 Detroit-based pastors would be convening at the federal courthouse Mar. 3 to protest marriage equality. Rumors put expected turnout as high as 600. The Detroit Police stood ready with extra officers in the area and an elevated observation platform. The media turned out in force. And about 50 pro-equality folks with rainbow-decorated signs and flags bundled up in bitter cold temperatures ready to counter the crowds.
They came to support April DeBoer and Jane Rowse, a Hazel Park couple that is suing the state for the right to marry and to jointly adopt their children.
But the crowds of ministers did not come in the morning as expected, only the die-hard Ypsilanti-based “traditional marriage” supporters who were there every day with professionally-made signs and coordinated shifts of pacing in front of the building. They blended peacefully with the pro-equality supporters, in a moving circle with clusters from each side, alternating with each other. For about an hour they walked – long enough to be seen by the entering attorneys and observers and the media. Then the cold sent most everyone away.
The lack of ministry presence provided a more peaceful than expected backdrop for the 8:45 a.m. press conference where Sandy Smith of the Jim Toy Center presented the couple with a $17,500 check towards their legal fees. Most of the money was raised during the Equality Cabaret last week at The Ark in Ann Arbor.
“This is from the Jim Toy center in Ann Arbor. We raised over $17,000 dollars for you guys. It’s just a start, a drop in the bucket. It takes a lot to do this and we all are standing with you,” Smith said.
DeBoer and Rowse spoke with visible breath in the harsh cold air, talking to reporters before going in to hear the state present their first witnesses.
“We are excited. Our attorneys have done a great job building the case. And we’re just excited waiting to hear the verdict and what the judge has to say,” DeBoer said. “We love the supporters, that’s fantastic. We’re glad they’re out here and we’re sorry that it’s so cold. It’s devotion, you know. We all stand by each other. They’re not standing behind us, they’re standing with us.”
When asked if she was nervous, Rowse answered, “I think the nerves ended about two years ago.”
Once the parties were inside, and the morning’s protestors and supporters had dispersed, about 30 Detroit ministers joined about 20 of the “traditional marriage” supporters and circled the building singing hymns and saying Bible verses. The arrived around 11 a.m., in time to catch the noon news programs and enjoy slightly warmer weather.
Pastor Colwell of First Baptist World Changers in Detroit was among those walking with Bible in hand. “We are here for our voting rights and to protect the marriage amendment. 2.5 million voters went to the polls and voted to protect the marriage right. One man one woman. And we believe that we want to protect it and not change it. There are pastors surrounding all over the Michigan region that support, over 100+ pastors and congregants standing for our rights,” he said.
Marriage equality supporter Monte Albert of Ferndale came with a large sign telling protestors that marriage pre-dated their Bible. “I feel like state and church should be separate. Founding fathers made it very clear,” he said. “All the opposition to marriage equality was only on a Biblical basis, not on any other religion or any other religious basis.”
Albert said that protesting, even with the “traditional marriage” people, “was a very pleasant experience.” He got thumbs up from supporters, and was grateful for a woman who had come prepared with an extra hand-made scarf to give away. Despite the cold temperatures, it was ultimately the caring and looking out for each other that kept the LGBT community warm.
Debra Baldwin and Amy Lavairre of Flint were among those in the court room. For them, end of life issues are a concern.
We’ve been together almost 20 years,” Baldwin said, “and we would like to have the ability to get married and make it legal. I’ve had a lot of health issues, and what I would like is protection for my partner.”
Lavairre added, “for us, we don’t have kids. So for us it’s not so much the adoption issue as the marriage issue. With us getting older and having compromised health and stuff, we need to ensure that we can make health decisions for each other…. And when we die, we can’t have everything planned, down and paid for, but it doesn’t matter. Our families can override what we’ve said.”
Baldwin would like to be cremated when the time comes, but in Michigan only a legal family member or spouse can give permission. The couple also faces tax penalties for not being married should there be any inheritance. There can also be restrictions on health coverage and retirement benefits.
Tanya Herman of Kalamazoo was one of the pro-equality supporters in front of the courthouse. She drove in for the trial along with Stephanie Kurt and Emily Kimball of Lansing, who are the godmothers of her 18-month-old daughter. She was dismayed at the lack of demonstrators, but toughed out several hours in the cold holding a sign identifying herself and her daughter as allies.
“This is a huge thing. It’s for my daughter’s future. I want her to be here and live the life she’s going to live. She’s already going have a tough enough life… I want her to be as happy as she can be, and these people [who oppose marriage equality] are making it so hard for her. And they are so ignorant. And I cannot believe how harsh they are and they just don’t care… The people here are going to make a difference. And it’s going to work. It’s just going to work,” Herman said.
The opening days have been emotional as well as educational. Cindy Clardy of Southfield has sat through each day’s testimony. “I wanted to see the trial,” Clardy said. “I thought it was really interesting… The real nitty-gritty comes down to listening to the testimony of the experts… A lot of the questions are sort of statements asked as questions. ‘Well, you do agree that such and such…’ And sort of expecting a yes or no answer, but the testimony was usually more than the state attorney was looking for.” Clardy and her partner have followed the case from the beginning. They have children and grandchildren whom they hope will have more rights than they have in their lives.
The trial is expected to end by Mar. 7, and it could be hours to weeks before Judge Friedman makes his final decision. Once his decision is made, it is likely that the state will appeal and the ruling could be put on hold in a “stay” until the appeal is heard.