I wept as I approached the plaintiffs’ attorneys at the end of the trial in DeBoer v. Snyder. “I’ve waited 42 years to hear what you had to say in a court of law,” I told him. “And I bring with me all the people who over the years have shared their stories with me about losing their children, or their jobs, or their homes. Unable to visit their sick partner in the hospital. Over the years all I could tell them was ‘there was nothing they could do,’ that the law doesn’t protect their families or their committed relationships. So thank you for what you are doing.”
During the trial I felt like a burden was lifting and finally a door was opening ahead that people would be able to walk through for the first time. I did feel anger at moments during the trial. For me it was clear that with all the battles – won or lost – we had to suffer so much to get to this point. I felt a bit of sadness too, that so many didn’t live to see this moment. I felt gratitude I was lucky enough to be living at this time in our history.
When the state’s witness Prof. Allen testified that LGBT people are going to hell unless we repented, I knew we had reached a tipping point. And not because Allen slipped down in his chair and lowered his voice while saying these disgusting words. We weren’t at a rally or political debate, we were in a court of law capturing this nonsense as “expert testimony.” Allen seemed to sense, as I did, it was their discrimination that was on trial.
Recently so many have said that the progress on LGBT rights feels breathtakingly fast. I do not see it that way. I marched in my first gay pride parade in New York City in 1972, and heard those terrible things shouted at me back then – that I was going to hell, that I was disgusting, that I was a threat to children. Some pummeled us with eggs and tomatoes. In the last decade, we watched as the marriage bans and constitutional amendments were passed and we knew it was unfair – unconstitutional. We also knew we did not have enough public support to turn them back. This trial has been a wake-up moment for so many allies and people who have been unaware of the discrimination faced by LGBT people – and I welcome it.
Many others came to the courtroom to witness the proceedings, like Frank Colosanti, Jr. who was there at 7 a.m. every day, committed to bearing witness. I also saw the cautious hope and heightened energy of the families who came into the court with their partners, with their children and parents, even grandparents. They wanted to know if their family would finally be fully protected in the eyes of the law. There were so many people, and they reminded me of so many others who came before and suffered so much. It took a lot of “outlaws” to bring us to this moment.
I was aware, while listening to the state’s arguments in favor of maintaining discrimination get eviscerated on cross examination, that the struggle is far from over. I expect we will see a victory in this case. But our country and the world remains a dangerous place for LGBT people.
While this trial progressed, Russia, Uganda and Nigeria cracked down severely on their LGBT communities. Arizona tried to legalize discrimination by disguising it as a religious exemption, and our own Gov. Snyder proclaimed his support for the ban on healthcare coverage for the partners of Michigan’s LGBT public employees. Even if we see a victory in this case, Michigan’s civil rights laws will not protect LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodation. A person can marry, but will they be able to put a picture of their spouse on their desk at work without risk of losing their job?
I watched as the plaintiffs’ attorneys put together an ironclad case. The testimony revealed the core purpose of Dr. Mark Regnerus’ work. It was to help slow down our civil rights movement and to create doubt as to who we as LGBT people might be. We learned mostly about who Regnerus feared, not who we are. And now it is in a court record for history to recount and judge for all time.
Every single one of the state’s “expert” witnesses conspired together toward a predetermined outcome, all hoping to maintain state sanctioned discrimination – academic rigor be damned. Their work was mapped out on a timeline and their associations have now been noted in the court record. All the loosely affiliated players were pulled together for the world to see that their sole aim was to halt our progress. The state kept saying we needed to be careful, we had to move more slowly – proceed with caution. Their whole approach was to cast doubt on us. “We aren’t sure” or “it’s premature” and we don’t yet know about this teeny-tiny speck of the population. We should be very afraid of LGBT people getting full civil rights until some far off research is completed (and as the state hopes it proves we are not worthy somehow of equal protection under the law).
It was painful to watch them bend social science to try and do their will, even while their witnesses had agreed there is a consensus in the field that children of same-sex parents do just fine. They just don’t like the consensus. They just could not let go of their long-held animus against us. This propaganda machine was fully documented in the court proceedings – and I hope Judge Friedman realizes this – that their motivation is simply to discriminate and continue to harm us.
Lisa Brown happens to be the Oakland County clerk, so she is the official who is not allowed to issue DeBoer and Rowse a marriage license. But Brown courageously became an adverse witness. She testified that convicted felons, substance abusers, even pedophiles can marry in Oakland County, so long as they are of legal age. But she is not allowed to issue a marriage license to any same-sex couple, and she thinks that is unconstitutional. Her role in the case made the state’s arguments look utterly ridiculous.
The state’s legal theory holds no basis in 21st century America. Equal protection under the law now casts a wider net that includes LGBT people – especially since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act in the Windsor case.
Now we wait to see if Judge Friedman agrees.
Susan Horowitz is the co-publisher of BTL. She is the former co-chair of Heritage of Pride in NYC, producer of the New York City Pride Guide for 19 years, and the former executive director of the New Festival, New York City’s LGBT Film Festival from 1989 – 1994. She has served on the board of Affirmations Community Center, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and numerous other LGBT and AIDS service organizations since 1975.