Many Detroiters react favorably to Supreme Court gay marriage decisions.
Gay rights supporters had reason to celebrate last week when the U.S. Supreme Court issued two 5-4 decisions championing the rights of same-sex marriage partners.
“Ecstatic” is the word used by Brian Kutinsky to describe his reaction to the June 26 rulings. Kutinsky, 52, is an attorney whose Franklin household consists of his partner of 22 years, Dr. Michael Neumann, 49, and their three children; Eve, 6, and 4-year-old twins, Ari and Leah.
“This is the best we could hope for; it’s very reaffirming, especially for younger gay people,” said Kutinsky. “It validates their relationships.”
One of the decisions struck down the federal statute known as DOMA, or Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex legally married couples from receiving the same federal benefits available to other married couples. The high court determined the law violated the rights of same-sex couples by denying them constitutional rights provided by the Fifth Amendment.
The ruling will make many federal benefits available immediately to same-sex couples in the 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is legal. It is unclear how it will apply to same-sex couples who married legally but now live in a state that does not recognize their marriage. The IRS now needs to interpret the decisions and apply its regulations.
The second decision involved dismissing an appeal concerning Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution banning same-sex marriages in that state. The court’s refusal to hear the case means that previous state and federal rulings allowing same-sex marriage in California will be upheld.
Minutes after the opinions were announced, responses began reverberating across the country, including a Tweet from President Obama, who received the news en route to Africa aboard Air Force One:
Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin called the decisions “victories for equality and for simple human dignity.”
State Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) said she was “pleasantly surprised” at the news and believes the rulings will eventually affect lawmakers in Michigan, where same-sex marriage is not recognized.
“The rulings may give pause to groups or individuals who want to promote agendas not in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court decisions,” said Lipton. “Those who really want to push an anti-equality agenda will have to think twice.”
Kary L. Moss, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, praised the opinions, stating that DOMA and Proposition 8 violated the Constitution by treating gay and lesbian couples as second-class citizens.
“The ACLU has been working for decades to secure the freedom to marry across the country. Today, we renew our commitment to this effort. We will work tirelessly to ensure that same-sex couples can legally marry in any state.”
In a statement from the National Council of Jewish Women, the organization said it hoped the decision “will inspire more states to join the growing number of marriage equality states.”
Micki Grossman of Farmington Hills is among those who rejoiced over the rulings, but she admits her attitude has changed significantly since 2000, when her son, Ross Grossman, and his partner, Alan Ellias, had a commitment ceremony at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. The event, which was attended by more than 200 guests and officiated by the entire clergy staff, had all the trappings of a traditional Jewish wedding, including a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract).
“I attended, but I could not walk down the aisle,” said Grossman. “As a Conservative Jew, it was hard for me to accept at the time.”
Ross and Alan, who live in Farmington Hills, were subsequently married in New York, where same-sex marriage is legal, although their union is not recognized here. Today Grossman wholeheartedly accepts her son and his husband, whom she jokingly calls her “son-un-law.”
“I’m 13 years older and wiser now,” said Grossman. “I’ve come a long way. I’m delighted they have each other. Everyone should have someone they love and who loves them.”
Kutinsky said the climate has changed significantly since he and Neumann became a couple more than 20 years ago.
“At first, people didn’t even know how to invite both of us to a wedding; now we are welcomed into the community with open arms,” he said, adding that having kids has had a positive effect on the attitudes of others. “Once you have children, people realize we’re not so different anymore. We all want the same things.”
Representatives of the Reform movement, which has long supported gay rights and same-sex marriage, praised the Supreme Court for its rulings.
An excerpt from a statement by the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the New York-based umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis, said, “… Judaism views marriage as a sacred responsibility, not only between the partners, but also between the couple and the larger community. Our movement recognizes and celebrates marriages, whether between partners of the same sex or the opposite sex. We therefore celebrate today’s decisions on gay marriage by the Supreme Court.”
Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, a Conservative congregation, reinforced the RA’s response.
“The Declaration of Independence means all people are created equal,” Bergman said. “This is a step in the right direction. It’s in the government’s best interests to create stable families.”
Not all members of the Jewish community celebrated the court actions.
The New York-based Orthodox Agudath Israel of America said the court’s decision “grievously insulted” the sanctity of marriage, which they define as the union of a man and a woman.
In a statement by the New York-based Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), the organization affirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage while emphasizing the need to respect all views:
“… we reiterate the historical position of the Jewish faith, enunciated unequivocally in our Bible, Talmud and Codes, which forbids homosexual relationships and condemns the institutionalization of such relationships as marriages. Our religion is emphatic in defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Our beliefs in this regard are unalterable. At the same time, we note that Judaism teaches respect for others and we condemn discrimination against individuals.”
Kutinsky and Neumann’s children, who were conceived using Neumann’s sperm and Kutinsky’s sister’s eggs, were born and adopted in Illinois, which has more liberal adoption and surrogacy laws than Michigan.
“A lot of effort went into making this family,” he said. “We both really wanted to be parents.”
Kutinsky and Neumann say they would definitely get married if same-sex unions are legalized in Michigan.
“We are excited; we’re very excited,” said Jewish Gay Network of Michigan President Michael Phillips. “Now we’re trying to figure out what we can do next to make positive changes and keep the momentum going.”
Legislators and gay rights activists agree that it remains to be seen how the Supreme Court decisions will affect individual states.
In a recent lawsuit brought by several same-sex couples, U. S. District Judge David Lawson for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a preliminary injunction against a state law barring public employers from providing benefits to individuals who live with, but are not related to, an employee.
“The state constitution is the final word in Michigan, until it is challenged,” Lipton said. “Do I expect that to happen? Probably.”
For many same-sex couples and their families, further legislative changes, especially in Michigan, are long overdue.
“I don’t understand the fuss,” said Grossman. “I wish Michigan would accept it (same-sex marriage); it only helps to create better families. How can you deny people the right to have a normal family life?”
By Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer