Gay Marriage: Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer Challenge Michigan Gay Marriage Ban


A lesbian couple in Michigan is suing in the state's federal court, seeking to have the state's ban on adoption by same-sex couples overturned. The federal judge in their case has invited the couple to broaden their lawsuit to include a complaint on Michigan's same-sex marriage ban, according to the couple and their lawyer. The federal judge's request comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear two cases concerning same-sex marriage later this month.

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer have been together 13 years and have three adopted children. While they consider themselves a married couple, the law does not recognize them as such. However, the couple could travel to one of the nine states that do allow same-sex marriage to make their commitment official. The problem they’re facing has to do with being parents.

Under Michigan's current legislature, only heterosexual married couples and individuals can adopt children. As foster parents, the couple could share legal guardianship of the children. However, once the couple decides to adopt, only one person could be granted as the legal parent. This leads to Rowse being the legal mother of Nolan, age four and Jacob, age three, while DeBoer is the legal mother to adopter daughter Ryanne, age three. This means that Rowse lost her right to make legal decisions regarding Ryanne, and DeBoer loses the same rights over Jacob and Nolan. The implications of this law go further; if, for instance, Rowse were to die, DeBoer would have to go to court to try to adopt Jacob and Nolan and vice versa.

According to Dana Nessel, one of the attorneys working for Rowse and DeBoer, the federal judge in their case "urged" the couple to amend their complaint to include challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban. While Rowse and DeBoer say that they'll be happy if the judge rules that same-sex couples can marry in Michigan, what they mostly hope to achieve is a judge ruling that they can both be the legal parents of all three adopted children.

The U.S. District Court who urged Rowse and DeBoer to amend their suit to challenge the same-sex marriage ban in Michigan called the ban "the underlying issue" to the adoption case, so the outcome of the pending same-sex marriage cases that are now before the U.S. Supreme Court may have telling implications for Rowse and DeBoer's case. Whether those implications will be in their favor or not is still unknown.

Michigan currently has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to same-sex relationships. In 2004, voters adopted an amendment to the state's constitution that prohibits recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions. A July 2011 Public Policy Poll found that 62% of Michigan voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 29% supporting same-sex marriage, 33% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 35% favoring no legal recognition, and 3% not sure.

However, 59% of the respondents to that poll were 46 years or older, so the actual approval rate for same-sex relationships being granted marriage or civil union status could be far greater. Younger generations tend to be more tolerant of other lifestyles, especially because the recent generation is growing up in a time where a visible gay rights movement is happening.

In May 2012, nearly a year after the first poll was taken, another Public Policy Poll found that 70% of Michigan voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples (up from 62% the previous year) with 39% supporting same-sex marriage (also up), 31% supporting civil unions but not marriage (down), 27% favoring no legal recognition (down) and 3% still unsure.