BY GINA CALCAGNO
Since DeBoer v Snyder was first filed on Jan. 23, 2012, the landscape of marriage equality in the United States has changed significantly. At that time, six states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex marriage. By the end of 2013, 14 states had embraced marriage equality. In the past year, we watched that number more than double. In the past month it seemed like every day a new state was hearing wedding bells. At the time of this writing, 32 states in the union recognize marriage equality and more than 61 percent of Americans live in marriage equality states.
Given the remarkable progress that our country has made on this issue, many were caught off guard by a decision that seemed so backwards, especially given that the State’s arguments had been thoroughly debunked and dismissed by other courts around the nation. I heard from people across the state who expressed anger, disbelief and sadness when the ruling was announced. Despite the rapid progress around the country, Michigan straggles behind as the people of our state wait for justice. It is difficult to wait patiently when our families are experiencing real harm.
The Court is well aware of the injury they’ve caused with this decision. The majority opinion acknowledged that this decision “deprives (gay couples) of benefits that range from the profound (the right to visit someone in a hospital as a spouse or parent) to the mundane (the right to file joint tax returns). These harms affect not only gay couples but also their children.”
Although many were surprised by a ruling that was so out of step with the rest of the country, the outcome was always uncertain. For months, pundits speculated about which way the inevitable 2-1 decision would come down. Some felt that the 6h Circuit had to continue the long road toward equality and, like the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th Circuits, find the states’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Others (correctly) predicted that Judge Sutton would ignore the Fourteenth Amendment in favor of what the dissent called “a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism.”
Judge Sutton’s refusal to answer the question that was before the court — whether the state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage was in fact unconstitutional — is a blessing. This ruling has presented the Supreme Court with the sharp circuit split that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg practically cried out for last month. The path to the highest court in the nation has been cleared and the legal team is expected to file their petition for certiorari this week.
It has been predicted by seasoned Court watchers that DeBoer v Snyder will be added to the long list of 6th Circuit cases that have been reversed and the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality. The 6th Circuit’s record before the Supreme Court is dismal and has the distinction of having more cases overturned than any other circuit. In the meantime, we must continue to advocate for same-sex marriage here in Michigan. It is imperative that we support the DeBoer family and their legal team as they fight, not only for their family, but for all families throughout the state and perhaps, the nation.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.” He reminded advocates that social justice “requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Time can weaken some in their quest, but Dr. King challenged those who felt daunted saying, “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
We must work to secure the rights of all Michigan families. We must talk about the values of marriage — love, commitment, responsibility. We will fight because the possibility of surrender or defeat is too much to bear. When I think about the people who have been fighting for decades, and the families who remain unprotected under Michigan law, my determination is renewed. I hope that you are inspired to embrace this challenge and connect with Michigan for Marriage as advocates throughout the state as we strive toward justice.