Historic Ruling

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Local same-sex couples overjoyed by Supreme Court decision.

Grossman-Ellias commitment ceremony
Micki Grossman, her son, Ross, and his partner, Alan Ellias, at their commitment ceremony at Temple Israel in 2000. They married in New York in 2013.

It was a day for rainbows, proposals and celebrations as the long-awaited Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage was announced and the history-making news quickly spread.

As soon as the announcement was made on Friday morning, June 26, same-sex couples and gay rights supporters throughout Metro Detroit reacted with a mixture of astonishment and joy.

Farmington Hills couple Ross Grossman and Alan Ellias, who had a commitment ceremony at Temple Israel 15 years ago and were married in New York in 2013, reacted with similar jubilation.

“I’m still pretty numb,” Ellias said. “It’s really about being legally recognized; spiritually we’ve always felt married. It was the legal piece that was missing and all that comes with it — to not have to think about those things any more is profound.”

Ross’ mother, Micki Grossman, also of Farmington Hills, was thrilled with the Supreme Court decision. Unlike some of the ruling’s detractors, who claim it diminishes the meaning of marriage, she believes allowing same-sex couples to marry will serve to strengthen the institution.

“It’s wonderful that marriage has something so important that people are willing to fight for it,” she said.

Beth Greenapple and Julia Pais, who were married in Canada in 2005 and celebrated their 20-year anniversary as a couple in March, are ecstatic their marriage is finally recognized in their home state of Michigan.

“We are delighted Michigan is now required to recognize us as a married couple,” Greenapple said. “I can’t tell you how elated I was when I heard the news; so is Julia, and so are all of our friends.”

She received a call from the couple’s 16-year-old son, Nadav, who was attending a journalism workshop in Washington, D.C., when the announcement was made. “He was so excited,” she said.

Joe Kort and Michael Cramer of Grosse Pointe Woods have been fighting this battle since 1999, when the announcement they submitted to the Jewish News for their upcoming commitment ceremony was sent back because it went against the paper’s former policy for wedding and engagement announcements. While this policy was changed two years later, the rejection hurt. In 2000, Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy performed a religious ceremony for the couple and, in 2004, they were married in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legal.

Like many couples who traveled to other states to get married, the two are elated their marriage will now be recognized in their home state and throughout the country.

2015-02-07 Joe Kort2
Michael Cramer and Joe Kort

“We are very emotional and in shock, even though we knew in a way the Supreme Court would validate our marriage,” Kort said.

Joe Kort and Michael Cramer of Grosse Pointe Woods have been fighting this battle since 1999, when the announcement they submitted to the Jewish News for their upcoming commitment ceremony was sent back because it went against the paper’s policy for wedding and engagement announcements. The request sparked much discussion and the policy was changed in 2004, but the initial rejection hurt, Kort said.

In 2000, Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy performed a religious ceremony for the couple and, in 2004, they were married in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was legal.

Like many couples who traveled to other states to get married, the two are elated their marriage will now be recognized in their home state and throughout the country.

“We are very emotional and in shock, even though we knew in a way the Supreme Court would validate our marriage,” Kort said.

Historical Background

The U.S. Supreme Court decision was based on four separate cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — all states where laws against same-sex marriage were upheld by an appeals court.

The Michigan case began as a lawsuit filed in 2012 by two Hazel Park nurses. The suit challenged the Michigan Adoption Code, which prohibits joint adoption by unmarried couples, regardless of gender. The plaintiffs have three adopted children, all with special needs.
Two of the young children, Nolan and Jacob, were adopted by Rowse, while Ryanne was adopted by DeBoer. Because Michigan law did not allow the couple to marry, the women were concerned about what might happen if one of them should die or become incapacitated because a non-legal parent has no official standing or parental rights.

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Judge Bernard Friedman

Federal District Judge Bernard Friedman, who was hearing the case, expanded its scope to include challenging the 2004 Michigan law forbidding marriage between same-sex couples. During a two-week trial in March 2014, plaintiff attorneys Dana Nessel, Carole Stanyar and Kenneth Mogill presented expert witnesses from a variety of fields who offered evidence to support that children raised in same-sex households fared just as well as those raised by heterosexual parents.

Assistant Attorney General Kristin Heyse represented the state of Michigan, arguing the court does not have the right to override the voters who approved the Michigan Marriage Amendment (MMA) in 2004.

On March 21, 2014, Friedman overturned the 10-year-old ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds it violated the U.S. Constitution. The following day, about 300 gay and lesbian couples were married by clergy, county clerks and other officials until a stay was issued by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals at the request of Attorney General Bill Schuette. The appeals court ultimately overturned Friedman’s decision, and the case was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration.

Historic Rulings

The tide toward legalizing same-sex marriage began to turn in 2013, with two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that proved to be forerunners of last week’s historic ruling.

The first involved striking down the federal statute known as DOMA, or Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented same-sex legally married couples from receiving the same benefits available to other married couples under federal law on the grounds it violated rights provided by the U.S. Constitution.
The second decision involved dismissing an appeal concerning Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution banning same-sex marriages in that state, an action that upheld previous state and federal rulings allowing same-sex marriage in California.

The June 26 Supreme Court vote was 5-4, with separate dissenting opinions written by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Voting in favor of same-sex marriage were Jewish Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion. Following is an excerpt from his opinion:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.
The Constitution grants them that right.”

Lisa Brown
Lisa Brown

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, a longtime proponent of same-sex marriage, was named as a defendant in the original lawsuit because her office was forbidden to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Like clerks in other counties throughout the state, Brown was ready to begin issuing licenses and performing ceremonies minutes after the decision was announced.

“I am elated and relieved by the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding same-sex marriage,” said Brown, who performed several ceremonies during the one-day window in 2014. “No longer will my office, or any office in this country, be forced to discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples who want to get married.”

Friedman, who was disappointed when his decision to overturn the same-sex marriage ban in Michigan was reversed by the court of appeals, was thrilled when he heard the news from the Supreme Court.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “As a Jewish American, I have a particular feeling about the principle of equal protection; it’s so important to all of us. I’m not surprised because it was the right thing to do, but you never know. I couldn’t be happier.”

Friedman’s elation was shared by Robert Sedler, constitutional law professor at Wayne State University Law School and civil rights advocate who assisted with the DeBoer-Rowse case. He is also a member of the Social Action Commission of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Marriage is a fundamental right under due process,” said Sedler, who added that the issue also divides the Reform and Conservative movements, which recognize same-sex marriage, from the Orthodox stream, which does not.

Wedding Plans

While some local couples celebrated the recognition of marriages performed in other states, those who had been waiting until same-sex marriage became legal in Michigan began planning their long-awaited weddings.

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Annette Berke Kanar and Leslee Kanar

West Bloomfield couple Annette Berke Kanar and Leslee Kanar, who legally changed their names (Kanar is Leslee’s maiden name) last year, are happily planning an August wedding. Annette was amazed by the deluge of support they received after her daughter suggested they update their Facebook status to “engaged.”

The women, who each have two children from previous marriages, had considered getting married in another state but preferred to do it in the company of their family and friends.

“We could have gotten married elsewhere and had a party here,” said Annette, “but we wanted our family and friends to witness our marriage, just like any other couple.”

Annette is pleased to have the opportunity to be a positive role model for the kids she encounters in her profession as a math tutor.
“And my grandkids can grow up to be whatever they want from the minute they are born,” she said. “It’s so heartwarming.”

Brian Kutinsky and Michael Neumann of Franklin, who have been together more than 23 years and are jointly raising their three adopted children, found the news both stunning and exhilarating.

Kutinsky, who said the couple is “married in every way but legally,” proposed via text as soon as he heard the news.
“It’s definitely life-altering; I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” he said. “It makes me look at everything in a new way.”

Brian Kutinsky
As soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Brian Kutinsky, left, texted a proposal to his partner, Michael Neumann. They have been together for more than 23 years and live in Franklin with their three adopted children.

Catalysts for the precedent-setting case, DeBoer and Rowse celebrated the decision and expressed gratitude to their attorneys and Judge Friedman, whom they asked to perform the marriage ceremony they are planning later this summer.

“We’re elated, not just for our family but for hundreds of thousands of families around the country,” DeBoer said.

Rainbows Everywhere

A proliferation of rainbows, which have come to symbolize gay pride, appeared across Facebook and in various places throughout the country, most notably the White House, which lit up with rainbow-colored lights after the Supreme Court ruling was announced.

“Today, we can say in no uncertain terms we have made our union a little more perfect,” President Barack Obama said in a statement about the decision.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder issued a statement vowing to respect the high court’s decision and make the accommodations necessary to fully comply with the ruling.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich) said, “This is a historic day, reflecting what each of us knows in our hearts and within our communities that we are all equal and should be able to marry who we love.”

Attorney Ken Mogill, who assisted with the original DeBoer trial in Federal court, said, “Throughout all of this, I kept thinking of the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Today that arc is a rainbow.”

By: Ronelle Grier, Contributing Writer

Local Rabbis Respond to Supreme Court Decision 

In 1994, the Detroit Jewish News published a long article about the struggle local Reform rabbis were having with the idea of same-sex unions. Few were calling the ceremonies weddings because same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the United States. Instead, gay and lesbian couples held “commitment ceremonies.”

Only a few local rabbis were willing to participate in such ceremonies.

Now, the majority of Detroit’s Conservative rabbis who have spoken to the JN — and about all of the local Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic rabbis — will do so. They are happy that on June 26 the Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex unions everywhere in the United States. The Conservative rabbis who will officiate at same-sex marriages will do so only if both partners are Jewish — the same requirement they have for heterosexual couples.
In a letter to his congregants at Congregation Beth Shalom, Rabbi Robert Gamer said he looks forward to standing under the chuppah with same-sex Jewish couples just as he does with heterosexual Jewish couples.

Gamer noted that at a brit milah for a baby boy or a naming ceremony for a girl, the parents wish for a future that includes Torah, chuppah, v’maasim tovim – Torah, marriage and good deeds. Now parents of all children, both gay and straight, will be able to see that wish fulfilled, he said.
Rabbi Elliot Pachter is one Conservative rabbi who feels same-sex unions contravene Jewish law.

“I have not performed a same sex wedding, and I have no plans to do so in the future,” said Pachter of Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.

“There are other situations in which I don’t officiate at a wedding, yet I personally express my congratulations and accept that the couple is married, even if the marriage is in conflict with Jewish law. Such cases include an interfaith couple and a couple in which at least one partner is previously married and divorced, without a get (Jewish divorce).”

Compelling Dignity

Rabbi Paul Yedwab of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield was a pioneer when he performed a wedding for a lesbian couple in 1993. He’d been planning to turn down their request until he met with them.

“What I found sitting across the desk was a couple so committed to one another, so in love and so Jewish that I told them I would do some studying on the issue and get back to them,” he said.

“During that week I began to focus on the rabbinic dictum Ki gadol kavod habriot — because the dignity of the individual is so great. I realized that the dignity of these individuals was so great as to override the proscriptions that were in place, so I reversed my original, inherited position and agreed.”

The same precept is a key reason Rabbi Aaron Starr of Conservative Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield supports same-sex marriage. The Talmud says that supporting human dignity supersedes a negative commandment of the Torah, he said.

Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel said the Supreme Court ruling means same-sex weddings will be more than recognition of a commitment.

“It’s a real wedding, with all the appropriate paperwork — in triplicate!” she said. “It is definitely a step forward in equal and civil rights.”

Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Reconstructionist Congregation Shir Tikah in Troy, agreed.

“Finally the marriages liberal rabbis have been performing for decades are recognized in all 50 states,” he said. “It is a victory for love, commitment and dignity. Mazel tov to America!”

Sleutelberg is happy that his 2012 marriage to Robert Crowe, which took place in Windsor, Ontario, now will be legal in Michigan.
The late Sherwin Wine of the Birmingham Temple in Farmington Hills was the first rabbi in Michigan to officiate at a same-sex union. In the 1994 JN article, he said he been doing so since the 1970s.

Birmingham Temple’s current rabbi, Jeffrey Falick, looks forward to officiating at same-sex marriages.

“For reasons beyond my comprehension, I have never been asked to conduct a same-sex ceremony despite the fact that I’m personally a member of the LGBTQ community,” he said. “In commemoration of this decision, I hereby offer the first same-sex couple that contacts me a Humanistic wedding free of charge!”

Even some Orthodox rabbis, who will not officiate at same-sex ceremonies just as they will not bless the union of a Jew and a non-Jew, approve of the Supreme Court decision, feeling that religious law should not dictate the law of the land.

“The government of the United States, a secular institution built on the theories of the Age of Reason, should not discriminate against homosexual couples,” said Rabbi Eliezer Finkelman of Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park. “The Supreme Court got it right.”

By: Barbara Lewis, Contributing Writer

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