By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
LANSING – Current and former members of Michigan Equality will be on hand to address the legal rights of LGBTs and their families at “Sexual Orientation and the Law: LGBT Law in America,” a conference to be held at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
During the conference, which will take place June 21 and 22 from 6-9 p.m., former Michigan Equality Program Director Dr. Penny Gardner will be on hand to discuss second parent adoption; current Michigan Equality President Douglas Meeks will discuss constitutional law and alternative families; Michigan Equality’s Nancy English will discuss state and local actions and needs; and Michigan Equality’s newest board member, Cooley Law School Professor Brendan Beery, will discuss discrimination in case law.
In addition Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project, will address child custody issues and Mary Pollock, chair of the Michigan NOW Task Force on MCRI to One United Michigan and Michigan United, will address the mis-named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which if passed by voters in November would eliminate affirmative action programs in the state.
Meeks said that the conference is important. “Obviously there’s a lot of legal battles going on throughout the U.S. on the constitutionality of same-sex partners’ benefits, and there are concerns for our families about how legal complications can hamper our families.” Meeks will be addressing the constitutionality of the bans on equal marriage rights that have been passed in several states.
“[The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative] should be important to LGBT people because it would abolish public-sector affirmative action programs that have most often benefited women and minorities. Many LGBT people are women and minorities who have been or could be affected by the measure directly,” said Pollock in an email to BTL. Pollock has worked as an EEO/affirmative action program manager for large public sector organizations for over 20 years.
Beery, who teaches Constitutional Law at Cooley, told BTL in an email that he will cover the U.S. Supreme Court — specifically statements by Justice Antonin Scalia — and the charge that liberal judges are “activists.”
“The founders built provisions into the Constitution to ensure that judges would be insulated from majoritarian preferences or retribution precisely so that judges could, when necessary, protect the rights of unpopular minorities,” Beery said. “When Scalia insists that majoritarian rule should trump judicial intervention (when it comes to protecting gays, especially), he’s abdicating the essential function of the court system. And by injecting his own biblical agenda into his jurisprudence, one could argue that it is he — and his ilk — that is actually an ‘activist.'”
Gardner told BTL that second-parent adoption is not just about protecting the rights of same-sex parents. “[Second-parent adoption], a child welfare act, protects children, strengthens families, and saves the state money,” said Gardner. “By stabilizing [both parent’s rights], the pool of adoptive parents is expanded and fewer children are dependent upon the state for basic necessities.”
“I think it’s great that Cooley is sponsoring legal presentations that cover in-depth legal issues affecting and impacting LGBT relationships and families,” said Kaplan. As for his topic, Kaplan said that he will be talking about the fact that, “although a court is supposed to make [custody] decisions based on the best interests of the child (and a parent’s sexual orientation is not a specific consideration), unfortunately, attorneys and judges will use a parent’s sexual orientation and or gender identity to make decisions regarding custody and visitation.” Kaplan said that he will also address how recent custody decisions banning unmarried parents from living with their partners and how the actions of some same-sex parents who try to use the law to prevent visitation by the other parent hurts the LGBT community.
The Thomas M. Cooley Law School Classroom Center is located at 217 South Capitol in Lansing. For more information call 517-918-3170.