BY AJ TRAGER
FERNDALE – Michigan for Marriage, the campaign working to spread the word on marriage equality in the state and Equality Michigan, the statewide advocacy organization fighting for the LGBT equality gathered Oct. 28 to discuss the future of same-sex marriage rights and equality in the state.
The conversation was headed by Sommer Foster, the director of political advocacy at Equality Michigan, and Gina Calcagno, the coalition manager for Michigan for Marriage who provided updates in the current battles. But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) decision Oct. 6, to not hear states’ appeals for marriage bans, and in the anticipation of the 6th Circuit ruling on the Deboer v Snyder case, the audience was concerned about where their rights stand and what the next step is.
“It has been 83 days; 1,009 days since the DeBoer family filed their case, and that is nothing compared to the years and decades that some of us have been waiting for our rights,” Calcagno said.
She has spent months speaking to people across the state about same-sex marriage and gender equality, including parents of gay and lesbian children who are leaving the state because of continued discrimination in state law.
With the election just a few days away, Calcagno believes its the tough conversations with family and friends that are going to swing the opinion and give a resonating majority vote for gay rights Nov. 4.
“We are talking with everyone we know. We are engaging family members on difficult discussions. Those are the conversations that we need to have. The way we have those conversations is so important. When you look at other states who have won marriage equality through the ballot, other states that have won marriage equality through legislation, it’s those conversations that people are having with one another that are the tipping point,” Calcagno said.
There is speculation that the 6th Circuit Court may be the first court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage bans, but Calcagno has a message for everyone trying to figure it out. She’s watched the court proceedings four times, frantically refreshes the court’s document release page until each day’s decisions are posted and at this point can only say for certain that the speculation is “all tea leaves.”
Whether the court decides in favor or against same-sex marriage, Michigan for Marriage has a plan of action, a two pass strategy for equality. On the day of decision, multiple cities from around the state will gather in protest or in celebration. Check out the link below for a list of gathering places.
6th Circuit Rules In Favor Of State
If the court decides for the state, Michigan for Marriage has vowed to keep fighting with the DeBoer-Rowse family when they appeal that decision to SCOTUS. Michigan for Marriage and Equality Michigan have also begun planning for a push to get marriage equality on the 2016 ballot.
While many states, including Michigan, have taken same-sex marriage to the ballot box. However, t is only in recent years, that those cases have gone in favor of marriage equality. Michigan added the voter-approved Michigan Marriage Amendment to its state constitution, making same-sex marriage unconstitutional in the 2004 election cycle.
What happens if the 6th circuit decided to uphold the constitutionality of the Michigan Marriage amendment?
“It would essentially force the Supreme Court’s hand because what would happen is we would have a circuit split. We currently have all these circuits that have said yes to marriage equality and then we would have the 6th sticking out like a sore thumb, saying no. That would create a dispute. The thing is, no judge likes being overturned. With that said, it’s really difficult to read tea leaves,” Calcagno pressed.
6th Circuit Rules In Favor Of DeBoer Family
If the 6th Circuit court does decide in favor of marriage equality, and a stay is not issued, Foster says it is time to head to the local county clerk’s office and get hitched.
Equality Michigan is working with various county clerks’ offices to see who will be open late or open over a possible weekend, to marry couples. Couples will need to bring their state IDs, birth certificates, and will need to prove that at least one party is a resident of the county and bring any divorce documentation that has been issued.
One attendee asked if there’s a rush to get married? Foster says she cannot say either way.
“When Judge Friedman ruled, we had no idea he would not issue a stay. It is completely unpredictable what the 6th Circuit will do. We are going to be prepared for any possibility. If you want to get married you have to be prepared for any possibility. Attorney Generals cannot issue a stay. But they can request one,” Foster said.
Mark Totten could win as Michigan’s next Attorney General and Mark Schauer could be elected the next Governor. Both candidates have come out in complete support of marriage equality and Totten has said on multiple occasions, that once elected he would drop the repeal and the race towards legal same-sex marriage in the state would look quite different.
“If you think about the beginning of the DeBoer v Snyder case, the Oakland County Clerk (Lisa Brown) was originally named as a defendant. And the Oakland County Clerk changed [their stance], and so the Oakland County Clerk wound up being a hostile witness for the defense. Lisa Brown [Mark Schauer’s running mate, and Oakland County Clerk] essentially delivered testimony that did not in any way agree with what the state was putting forth,” Calcagno said. “I think that is what you’d see if the 6th Circuit were to rule against us and Mark Totten were to get elected, you would see a different defense from the state. It would still go forward, but it would be very different.”
Lori Pimlott and Jill Calvin were one of the roughly 300 couples that were married in March just after Judge Friedman struck down the state’s marriage ban.
“For anybody who decides to wait, we got married in March and I was a little disappointed, because family wasn’t going to be there. Were there going to be demonstrators? What was it going to be like? And it was the best experience I could have ever imagined because we were with people who understood where we were coming from and we had a great day,” Calvin said.
The couple is eagerly waiting for the time when Michigan’s same-sex married couples have equal representation under the law and the roughly 1,000-plus benefits that come with heterosexual marriages.
“My previous partner died of cancer and I was not allowed to make decisions on her burial because I was considered a stranger. That shouldn’t happen, we’re married,” Calvin said.
Calcagno closed the meeting by issuing a message of strength and courage that marriage equality will come to the state and that Michiganders of all types will have full equality.
“If you have friends and family members, talk to everyone. Have those conversations. And they can be hard. And be ready to debrief. And if you need someone to debrief with when you have one of those conversations, please get in touch with me afterwards. If it doesn’t go well, know that you have someone to debrief with. Because this is going to be hard work, but I promise you this is going to be worth it. This really is our fight. These are our years and we can bring marriage equality to Michigan.”