Ann Arbor community members discuss same-sex marriage opening arguments

By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 28, 2015

Members and supporters of the Washtenaw LGBTQ Rights Committee gathered in Aut Bar Tuesday night to discuss the Supreme Court’s opening arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a case challenging same-sex marriage bans.

Obergefell v. Hodges consolidates four different cases challenging the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, each from a different state. DeBoer v. Snyder, the case challenging Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, is one of these cases, and its outcome will be determined by the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges has the potential to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Angie Martell and Kerene Moore, both attorneys in Ann Arbor, spoke to the crowd about the potential effects the case could have on the LGBTQ community as well as their predictions on how the Justices would vote.

The event was hosted by the Jim Toy Community Center, a resource center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in Washtenaw County, and was held in the outdoor seating area of the bar.

Kevin Orr, who owns Aut Bar with his husband, was thrilled with the large turnout despite the fact that a lot of the committee members and students from OUTLaw, the Law School's organization for LGBTQ community members, are in Washington D.C. for the case hearing.

“Obviously, this is a very important day, but it’s also not the day that the decision is being made,” Orr said. “I did not expect this type of turnout. We’re having a great time.”

Jennifer and Alexi Chapin-Smith were one of more than 300 same-sex couples married last year before the Sixth Circuit Court reversed the lower courts ruling and upheld the ban on same-sex marriage. Jennifer said the purpose of the event was to clarify information about the case that many members of the LGBTQ community did not understand.

“The idea is to explain this to non-lawyers, like me, because it’s very complicated with all of these question one,question two, all these legal precedents, and not everybody knows all this stuff,” Chapin-Smith said.

Martell began the discussion by describing what the Court would actually be debating during the case hearing.

"There were two questions before the court today," Martell said. "One was whether the state should allow same-sex marriages, and the second question is can states prohibit same-sex marriages or be required to recognize same-sex marriages elsewhere."

Martell said she believes Chief Justice John Roberts would like to make a middle-road decision. However, she said she does not think this will likely occur.

"I think Roberts wants to see a compromise," Martell said. "He wants to say, 'Let's forget about question one. Let's let the states deal with question one, but on question 2, those states need to accept and recognize the marriages.' I don't think that's going to happen."

Martell said she was confident Roberts would still vote in favor of same-sex marriages because she thinks he doesn’t want to ruin his legacy or appear on the wrong side of history.

Despite Justices raising concerns about same-sex marriage legalizations during the opening arguments, Martell said she anticipates five justices voting in favor of same-sex marriage: Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy.

Out of these justices, Justice Kennedy, is the only one who Martell believes would waiver. She said she anticipates his vote in favor because one of his closest friends, who is now deceased, was gay.

Martell said she thinks, the decision will be 6-3, with the possibility of a 7-2 vote if Justice Samuel Alito was to vote in favor as well. Regardless, she said she believes Roberts’ compromise would not influence the other Justices.

“I think Roberts’ compromise is not going to go over well with the solid five, only because to leave it to the states again is going to be really unacceptable because you have the Michigan case right before them that had the direct animus,” Martell said. “It’s not going to happen in Michigan unless they’re forced to and they would have to wait until 2016 — a presidential election — and that would throw that presidential election really in a tizzy.”

Martell and Moore discussed potential implications of the Supreme Court only answering two questions in this case. They said the decision would do nothing to protect the rights of gay men and women outside of marriages or the transgender community.

Martell said she was confident that the Supreme Court would vote in favor of the gay community.

“I don’t see them saying no to same-sex marriage,” Martell said. “There are hundreds of thousands of marriages across the country, and that would throw people in a quandary about whether to remain in the state they’re living in or move to states that have the initial 18 legal states. Which means, pretty much, that people would be living on the East Coast.”

Martell also said the case was not a simple one.

"We see a court that's very troubled that this issue was placed on its lap," Martell said. "The Chief Justice Robert's biggest concern is that the institution of marriage is being redefined. That we’re seeking to change the institution of marriage and imposing it on people."

Orr said he was not as confident as Martell, but still felt the court would vote in favor of same-sex marriages.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Orr said. “There were a lot of people prior to today who said, ‘Oh, it’s a slam dunk,’ and even beforehand I was cautiously optimistic. One of the reasons why is you don’t generally get to the Supreme Court on something that isn’t going to be a contested issue.”