Round-Up: Same-sex couples in 5 states file lawsuits for the freedom to marry
July 10, 2013
In the past two weeks, since the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which for 16 years denied federal marriage protections to legally married same-sex couples, many legal organizations have looked to build off of the victory's momentum by filing state lawsuits seeking the freedom to marry and challenging state marriage amendments and bans.
Freedom to Marry is tracking the cases on our State Legal Cases page. And below, here's some of the most recent news for five of the cases. In addition to these five, the ACLU has also announced that they are in the planning stages of a lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry in Virginia.
Pennsylvania: ACLU's Whitewood v. Corbett
On Tuesday, July 9, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller, filed a federal suit on behalf of 10 same-sex couples in Pennsylvania seeking the freedom to marry in their home state, as well as the surviving widow of a same-sex couple. Lead plaintiffs Deb and Susan Whitewood have been together for 22 years and live with their three children in Bridgeville, PA.
Many of the couples in the Pennsylvania lawsuit are legally married in other states. James Esseks of the ACLU told The Washington Post today, "Pennsylvania recognizes straight people's marriages from Maine and New York, but it doesn't recognize gay people's marriages from Maine and New York. The question is, why?"
Pennsylvania includes a state statute restricting marriage to different-sex couples. It does not, however, have a constitutional amendment excluding same-sex couples from marriage.
New Jersey: Lambda Legal's Garden State Equality et al. v. Dow et al.
Garden State Equality et al. v. Dow et al. has been in the courts since June 2011, when Lambda Legal filed the case in New Jersey Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples who explained that civil union is not enough to protect their families. Shortly following the Supreme Court decision declaring Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment in the case, citing the DOMA decision as a basis for invalidating New Jersey's civil union law and replacing it with the freedom to marry.
The lawsuit is largely based in the New Jersey Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in Lewis v. Harris, which declared that same-sex couples in the state must be treated as equal to different-sex couples - and that the state must either end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage or create a separate institution that granted similar protections. The NJ legislature, unfortunately, passed civil union, a lesser mechanism of relationship recognition. Under DOMA, however, the federal government treated NJ civil unions the same way it treated legal marriages between same-sex couples: It, essentially, ignored them. Now that Section 3 of DOMA has been struck down, same-sex couples in NJ in civil unions are being denied the federal protections of marriage and for this reason, Lambda Legal explains in their recent motion, the civil union law now violates the Lewis v. Harris ruling quite explicitly.
Arguments in the motion for summary judgment are scheduled for August 15, 2013. Watch a series of videos featuring five of the wonderful families included in the lawsuit.
North Carolina: ACLU's Fisher-Borne v. Smith
On June 13, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of six North Carolina same-sex couples seeking second-parent adoption in North Carolina. This week, on July 9, 2013, the case was amended to seek the freedom to marry for these couples.
The ACLU explained, "In light of the Supreme Court's focus in United States v. Windsor on how children are harmed by the exclusion of same-sex couples from federal recognition of their parents' marriages, it's clear that the harms at the center of our North Carolina case will resonate with the Court."
Lead plaintiffs Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne have been together for 16 years and live in Durham, N.C. They were legally married in Washington, D.C. in 2011, but their marriage is not respected due to North Carolina's Amendment 1, which denies same-sex couples the freedom to marry - and even access to lesser family status, including civil union and domestic partnership.
Michigan: DeBoer v. Snyder
This lawsuit, brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse on behalf of their family in Michigan, challenges the state's anti-gay constitutional amendment restricting marriage to different-sex couples. The amendment also prohibits same-sex couples from joining together in civil union and domestic partnership, and impacted Michigan's adoption code to deny protections to the children of same-sex couples.
On July 1, days after the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. United States, the judge in Michigan denied the state's motion to dismiss the case, explaining that the decision in DOMA provides new legal ground for the case. "The Plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court, and they shall have it," Judge Friedman explained in the court's opinion.
The plaintiffs, April and Jayne, have been together for over 10 years and both work as nurses. They are foster parents who care for three children, and want to adopt all three children, establishing each parent's legal claim and relationship to their children. Under Michigan law, only one of the parents may adopt each of the children.
Illinois: Lambda Legal's Darby v. Orr
Last year, on May 30, 2012, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of 16 same-sex couples and their children seeking the freedom to marry. The case has been in the courts all year, and today, July 10, 2013, just two weeks after the Supreme Court announced its ruling in Windsor v. United States declaring Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Lambda Legal has filed a motion for summary judgment in the Cook County Circuit Court, requesting a swift end to the harm and indignity that couples face because they do not have access to marriage protections.
Same-sex couples in Illinois can join together in civil union - but as we know, and as was confirmed by the White House this week - civil union is not equal to marriage.
Camila Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, explained that civil union is not enough. She said: "The end of DOMA creates a new urgency and same-sex couples in Illinois can't wait any longer. One of our plaintiff couples is approaching a 50th anniversary - how much longer should they have to wait? Another is expecting a third child. Not only are these families denied dignity and respect from their state, but now they are also denied important federal marriage benefits such as access to family and medical leave if one spouse is ill, and spousal veteran's benefits."
Meet the couples involved in the case HERE.