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Will Mich. judge make a surprise ruling for marriage equality?

Decision could immediately follow oral arguments this week



National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

A federal judge in Michigan could issue a surprise ruling on Wednesday in favor of marriage rights for gay couples. (Image via wikimedia).

The national landscape for marriage equality could change abruptly following oral arguments in a Michigan lawsuit on Wednesday if the federal judge presiding over the case issues a decision saying gay couples should be able to wed in the state.

The U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Michigan is set to hear arguments in the case of DeBoer v. Snyder, a lawsuit filed by private attorneys that seeks to overturn the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage approved by Michigan voters in 2004.

Because requests for summary judgment were filed by both the plaintiffs and the state, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman could issue a decision immediately after he hears arguments in the courtroom.

Dana Nessel, one of four private attorneys representing the lesbian plaintiff couple in the lawsuit, said she’s “very hopeful” at the end of arguments Friedman will issue a ruling against the marriage ban in Michigan.

“We don’t know that that’s going to happen, but certainly, we’d be thrilled to have a resolution to this case as early as possible,” Nessel said. “This case has been pending for a very long time, and there are hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of LGBT couples in this state that have been awaiting a ruling in this case.”

The case was filed in January 2012 by a lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, in Hazel Park, Mich., who were seeking a ruling granting them the ability to adopt their three children.

Michigan law has no explicit ban on gay adoption, but restricts adoptions to either single persons or married couples. Meanwhile, the Michigan marriage law restricts the state’s legal definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Some judges have interpreted that to mean gay couples can’t adopt because they’re unable to marry.

After Friedman reviewed the case last year, he suggested to the couple that they were actually seeking the right to marry because the right to adopt in the state was tied to marriage. The couple amended their case in March to seek marriage equality in Michigan, while still pursuing their goal of adoption rights, on the basis that the marriage ban violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, said the judge may decide to wait beyond the day of oral arguments — perhaps indeterminately — to issue a decision on marriage, and could ultimately avoid the marriage issue altogether in his decision.

“There are many different scenarios that could happen here,” Kaplan said. “The judge could decide maybe just to focus in terms of the right to jointly adopt, and he could say that’s separate from the issue of marriage, or he could decide it’s tied to the issue of marriage and could also then decide to deny the right to marry is unconstitutional in the state of Michigan.”

It’s the first oral arguments in federal court after the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. Presenting the oral arguments on behalf of the plaintiff couple will be private attorney Carole Stanyar. The attorney arguing in favor of the ban will likely be the lead counsel representing the state, Assistant Attorney General Kristin Heyse.

One thing to watch is whether the decision in United States v. Windsor will have bearing on the judge’s questioning or any decision he issues. Although that decision struck down a law prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, state courts and attorneys general have already drawn on the language in that decision to determine that state bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.

Nessel said the decision will be a “tremendous benefit” in efforts to lift the ban on same-sex marriage in Michigan because of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy’s language in the ruling expressing concern for children raised by gay couples.

“Our feeling was why talk about children being raised in same-sex households in a case that didn’t involve that at all unless Justice Kennedy specifically meant for that to apply to our case, to cases like ours,” Nessel said. “There it is. Right in the Windsor decision where it didn’t have to be. There’s no reason to talk about that unless it was meant to apply to our scenario, and we think it does.”

The ACLU of Michigan, Kaplan said, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case in favor of the plaintiffs along with Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign. Prior to the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA, in December 2012 these groups urged the court to hold off on a decision on the basis that it was more “prudent” to make a decision after receiving guidance from the high court — a request the judge followed.

Another question is whether Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who has side-stepped the issue of same-sex marriage, or Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has a reputation for being a conservative, will appeal a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Such an appeal could mean a stay on the ability of county clerks to grant licenses to gay couples despite a ruling in favor of marriage equality.

The Michigan attorney general’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on Schuette’s expectations for the lawsuit or whether he would appeal a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Schuette, told the Detroit Free Press the state would defend the marriage ban in court, but wouldn’t comment on what would happen if the court ruled in favor of marriage equality.

Kaplan predicted that Schuette would make the appeal to the Sixth Circuit because the attorney general is “no supporter of LGBT equality in our state.”

“He’s indicated that he believes things should be the status quo with regard to relationship recognition the way things exist now in our state,” Kaplan said. “Chances are that he would appeal.”

Oral arguments in the case are taking place in the Michigan lawsuit amid a slew of activities throughout the country on marriage equality following the Supreme Court decision against DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. At least 35 marriage equality lawsuits are pending in 19 states.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, an HRC spokesperson, said a ruling in favor of marriage equality from the Michigan court — even if it were appealed — would be a tremendous boon to the pursuit of marriage equality across the country.

“This is one of many cases that calls into question the irrational exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from marriage and we are hopeful that as momentum builds, these darks walls of discrimination will fall,” Cole-Schwartz said.



EXCLUSIVE: Biden-Harris campaign debuts ads targeting LGBTQ voters

Ads to begin running Tuesday



Pride month ad (Photo courtesy of the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign)

The Biden-Harris 2024 campaign will debut new ads on Tuesday targeting LGBTQ voters in battleground states for Pride Month ahead of November’s election.

“These ads will be featured across national and battleground LGBTQ+ media outlets, and will run throughout the month,” the campaign explained in a press release.

The aim is to “uplift” Biden’s record as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history” while also highlighting “Donald Trump’s history of attacking their rights and his plans to go further.”

One ad that was previewed exclusively by the Washington Blade reads, “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are fighting for the LGBTQ community!” with a photo of the president and vice president.

Another, formatted for social media, features a photo of Pride flags atop a quote from the “PBS NewsHour”: “On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been outlining what he plans to do if elected in November. That includes rolling back the rights of millions of LGBTQ+ people. It’s part of a wider playbook to undo many civil rights advances for minority groups.”

“This Pride is an important time to remember the progress we’ve made for our community under President Biden, and the stakes of this election for LGBTQ+ Americans as Trump proudly runs to strip us of our rights,” said Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson Kevin Munoz, who is gay.

“From threatening IVF treatments to threatening LGBTQ+ marriages, Trump’s Project 2025 agenda would rip away our rights, and sow needless hate and division for Trump’s political gain,” he said. “LGBTQ+ Americans deserve to hear from us about these stakes, and this buy shows we will continue to show up and make our case to them in this election.”

The ad blitz on Tuesday comes after the campaign’s announcement of a paid media and organizing push for Pride month, which includes sizable investments in courting LGBTQ voters in battleground states.

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Out former staffers reflect on working for Vice President Kamala Harris

Tim Silard and Ike Irby spoke to the Blade before the VP’s interview



Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo credit: The White House/Lawrence Jackson)

The Washington Blade spoke last week with two gay men who have worked for vice president Kamala Harris and provided insight into her work advancing LGBTQ+ rights and her lifelong close ties to the queer community.

These conversations preceded the exclusive interview with Harris published on the Blade Tuesday.

Tim Silard, president of the Rosenberg Foundation, which provides grants to promote racial and economic justice in California, worked for Harris when she served as the District Attorney of San Francisco.

Ike Irby, a scientist who now leads his eponymously named communications firm, served as special assistant to the president and deputy domestic policy advisor and chief climate advisor to the vice president until January 2024, having previously worked in Harris’s U.S. Senate office.

Harris has sincere, deep ties to the LGBTQ community

“She’s had close working relationships with and advisors from the [LGBTQ] community, and in particular, one of her main campaign people the first time she ran [for district attorney] was Jim Rivaldo, who was a legend in San Francisco and part of Harvey Milk’s inner circle,” Silard said.

Irby, and Harris herself, also told the Blade about her work with Rivaldo, who through his role electing Milk, California’s first openly gay public servant, helped show the country it was possible for queer people to hold elected office.

“From the get go, she both hired — and, I think, maybe just as significantly, promoted into the top ranks of the office — a number of LGBTQ people,” Silard said. Harris “was intentional about not only hiring more people of color into the office, but also women and LGBTQ people,” he noted.

When he joined her Senate office, Irby remembers, “it was actually such a shock to like, finally, be in a work environment where it’s not just like there was another queer person, it was like there was a whole family, a brigade of queer people in this office.”

“Law enforcement as an institution tends to be dominated by straight white men,” Silard said. So, “promoting LGBTQ people into [positions] as managers of units and into the top executive staff, I think is a very important element to culture change within an office and to ensuring that the voices of the community are heard within the office.”

“Kamala, just by the virtue of who she is and what she believes, and her deep relationships across many communities, brought a very different perspective,” he explained. “And that was true across so many things, communities of color, women, LGBTQ folks — I think it was just natural for her, and, you know, she became a prosecutor to represent the underdog, right, to represent people who are victimized.”

In her personal life, too, Silard said, the vice president has “always had deep relationships and close friendships” with LGBTQ+ people who “were really part of her immediate, extended family, coming to Thanksgiving dinner and whatnot.”

“In the time period where the vice president was was growing up and learning the foundation of who she was going to be, both as a child in the Bay Area, but then also right after she graduated undergrad and moved to law school over there and then became a D.A., both those time periods were such a moment of the queer liberation movement,” Irby said.

This time was also a period in which LGBTQ rights intersected with “women’s rights and Black equality,” he noted, “all of these fights, together, and the way the vice president really addresses and thinks about these issues is that intersectionality.”

“Both because of her relationships, and going back to hiring and promoting a lot of LGBTQ people, all of the things that she did and that we did, that I mentioned, and there were others, all came from and were developed in direct conversation and coordination with leaders from our community,” Silard said.

Taking action, and understanding problems as intersectional

In her first term as district attorney, which was also her first elected position, Harris was sure to appoint LGBTQ+ staff to the Victim Services Division, Silard said.

“Our office provided victim services whether there was an actual prosecution or not,” he said. “If there was a police report, then the victim advocates could do a lot of practical things, like accessing victim support funds and funds for therapy, changing your locks, other kinds of practical ways to keep you safe, as well as emotional support.”

Silard added, “That was the first in California — I don’t know about, possibly, the nation — but where there was a whole team of victim advocates who were from our community.”

As a result, he said, more LGBTQ people came forward to report crimes. Having “vertical prosecution units” with “lawyers and paralegals and others who not only are from the community, but they are experts, they have lower caseloads, they pay more attention,” he said, tends to yield “more successful prosecutions, and you can define that in a whole number of different ways.”

Irby and Silard both highlighted Harris’s work combatting use of the “gay panic defense” and “trans panic defense,” arguments in the courtroom that endeavor to mitigate acts of violence against LGBTQ+ victims.

“She brought a focus to LGBTQ hate crimes, and in particular, transphobic crimes,” said Silard, who noted, “it hadn’t been that long since [the murder of] Matthew Shepard and then, I think, more recently for us in the Bay Area, Gwen Araujo’s murder.”

“We did a whole conference, for law enforcement, on the trans and gay panic defenses,” he said, recalling, “we had these sheriffs from Texas and Florida and people in cowboy hats; we had people from all over the country come from prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement,” many of whom had never met a trans person and now were listening to full panels of trans speakers.

“It really was impactful for those law enforcement people to be hearing directly from trans people about what their lives are like, the oppression and violence that they and people in their community were suffering all the time,” Silard said.

Irby pointed to the fact that Harris “gathered other district attorneys from around the country to do a training so that she could share that information, so that it wasn’t just her impacting [the issue] there in San Francisco.”

Silard said the notion that she “somehow she did these things because she thought it would get her more votes” is ridiculous, as if bringing in law enforcement officials from Florida to work on this issue could have carried some electoral advantage for her.

“It’s classic Kamala to say, ‘okay, what are we going to do about it?'” when confronted with a problem, he said. So, with respect to the gay and trans panic defenses, she set about figuring out ‘”how do we educate people in law enforcement to confront it?’ and ‘how can we craft a law and do it in such a way that still protects the rights of defendants?'”

Irby remembered how Harris, as a new senator, saw and took the chance to help broaden access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication regimen that substantially lessens the chances of transmitting HIV through sex.

“There’s a lot of people who have been senators for a very long time, and there are not a lot of open policy lanes for a new person to come in and try to make sure that they are making their mark on specific issues,” he said. “But on LGBTQ issues in particular, the Vice President found that opportunity by her bill to help people access PrEP.”

Harris, he recalled, said, “‘hey, this is important. We need to de-stigmatize this. This is about healthcare for LGBTQ people. This is about their ability to to be to be safe, to be healthy and live their fullest lives.'”

“As a former prosecutor, she understands the power of the courts, certainly,” Irby told the Blade. Going back to her time as a prosecutor and later as California’s Attorney General, he noted, Harris “refused to uphold Prop 8 in the courts and saw the power of that as making sure that she was fighting for that expansion and not the restriction” of rights through the judiciary, whose role she has always understood as a means of strengthening and broadening freedoms and protections.

“I am so proud of her, and I was so proud to be part of so many things that she did early on and proud of what she’s continuing to do,” Silard said.

“It’s one thing for a politician to talk about an issue, to orate about it very nicely,” Irby said. “It’s another thing to show up in those spaces; it’s another thing to surround yourself and demonstrate that you have credibility,” as she has done and continues to do.

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Equality Caucus, White House condemn anti-LGBTQ riders in spending bill

Biden has promised a veto



U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Congressional Equality Caucus on Wednesday condemned House Republicans’ passage of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (“MilCon”) Appropriations Act, 2025, with anti-LGBTQ riders attached.

“Once again, Republicans are attacking the transgender and broader LGBTQI+ community with riders that both harm our LGBTQI+ veterans and undermine our military readiness by discouraging LGBTQI+ people from enlisting,” said caucus chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“We strongly condemn this bill and its cruel attacks that target those who have served our nation in uniform,” the congressman said. “Our members remain committed to defending the LGBTQI+ community throughout the Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations process and beyond.”

The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden would veto the House version of the MilCon bill, with opposition stemming in part from the anti-LGBTQ riders along with anti-abortion riders, which would reverse the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy of covering abortions in cases of rape or incest. These provisions will almost certainly not be included in the Senate version of the appropriations package.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a statement outlining the Biden-Harris administration’s position on the bill, writing: “H.R. 8580 includes numerous, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences, including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two of the four anti-LGBTQ riders would prohibit the use of appropriated funds for “surgical procedures or hormone therapies for the purposes of gender affirming care” and the implementation, administration, application, or enforcement of three executive orders by Biden containing LGBTQ-inclusive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives:

A third would prohibit the flying of Pride flags over VA facilities and national cemeteries while a fourth would create a “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ people under the pretext of religious liberty.

For instance, the caucus writes, “it prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating a federal contract or grant with an organization that discriminates against LGBTQI+ people if the organization justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

Likewise, the rider “prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating the employment of an employee who discriminates against LGBQI+ people if the employee justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

This means a benefits counselor could, without being penalized, refuse to process applications and changes for a veteran’s same-sex spouse, the caucus notes.

On X, the caucus pledged to defeat the anti-LGBTQ riders, noting “we were able to ensure these harmful riders were not included in last year’s final MilCon-VA bill.”

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