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SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage draws cheers -- and media to Wayne Law

June 26, 2013

DETROIT -- Wayne State University Law School’s involvement in cutting-edge civil rights issues once again drew major media attention on June 26, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law that denied benefits to married same-sex couples.

The justices, in a 5-4 vote, declared unconstitutional the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits enjoyed by different-sex married couples, including marital income tax deductions and Social Security benefits allowed for the death of a spouse, to same-sex couples who are legally married in 12 states.

The SCOTUS decision could have an impact on a Michigan case where April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park are awaiting a ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on the constitutionality of the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban. The lesbian couple seeks the right to marry legally so they can have joint custody of their three adopted children. Michigan law allows a single person to adopt, but not an unmarried couple, so the couple’s children are limited to one parent unless the women can legally wed.

DeBoer and Rowse; their attorneys Dana Nessel, a 1994 Wayne Law graduate, and Carole Stanyar; and Wayne Law’s Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Sedler, a world-renowned expert on constitutional law who has been consulting on the DeBoer case, were on hand at Wayne Law for a press briefing a few hours after the SCOTUS ruling was announced.

“I think this is very good news for our case; it’s very good news for our plaintiffs,” Stanyar told the TV cameras, microphones and journalists at the Law School’s briefing in the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

Stanyar read aloud part of the SCOTUS majority’s opinion that states that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.” Those words ring true to DeBoer and Rowse, who initially brought their lawsuit against the state solely to be allowed to adopt their children as a couple. Friedman suggested early in the proceedings that the women expand their case to challenge Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

Friedman heard arguments in the DeBoer case in March at the Law School — an event that drew dozens of reporters — and delayed his decision until the Supreme Court had decided its same-sex marriage cases. He promised a prompt decision on the Michigan case following the SCOTUS ruling.

Rowse and DeBoer said they are optimistic now about how Friedman will rule.

“This isn’t a case about our marriage,” DeBoer told the reporters at the Law School briefing. “This is about our children — the civil rights of our children. We’re just doing what we have to do to protect our children.”

Sedler said the SCOTUS decision underscores that “there simply is no justification for discriminating (against gays and lesbians), and that is what this case is all about — discrimination. The Constitution’s guarantee of equality — that’s what this is all about. The decision today goes a long way to extending marriage equality. ”

Nessel said she expects whatever decision Friedman makes in the DeBoer case to be appealed, and added that she, Stanyar and their plaintiffs are willing to take the case against Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban to the Supreme Court, if need be.

But meanwhile, the atmosphere at the Keith Center during the briefing was celebratory.

“It’s a good day for those of us who believe in equality, love and justice for all,” Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson said.

Photo captions:

Wayne Law's Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Sedler (at right) talks to reporters about the Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Jayne Rowse (left) and April DeBoer tell the media that they challenged Michigan's same-sex marriage ban to have joint custody of their three children.








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