Aug. 5 2010 12:00 AM

Lansing couples a step closer to being legally wed

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope had to go to Canada in 2004 to legally marry his partner Brad Rakowski. After a federal judge’s ruling Wednesday overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban, Swope is one step closer to having his marriage recognized by his own country.

“It was a great ruling,” Swope said. “I was a little bit surprised but overall happy and pleased with it.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling to overturn Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage passed by 52 percent of voters in 2008, has legitimate potential of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling said there was no rational basis for denying same-sex partners the right to marry and that California’s constitution gives the idea that same-sex marriages are inferior to opposite-sex marriages. It also said California’s law was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

“The fact that there was no rational basis (for the ban) was right on point,” Swope said. “This is an equal protection issue and the 14th Amendment should apply.”

Lansing attorney Doug Meeks, who chairs the political action committee of Equality Michigan, the newly formed gay rights organization, said Walker’s ruling was the right decision at a time when the country needs to move forward on this issue.

“It’s time this question is asked and answered,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”

Meeks agrees with Swope on the Walker’s rationale. “The decision was reasoned very soundly,” Meeks said

Federal law prohibits same-sex marriage, outlined since 1996 in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). However, same-sex marriage licenses are granted in five states and the District of Columbia.

In 2004, about 59 percent of Michigan voters supported a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. It would take a referendum to overturn that, which Meeks believes is unlikely. The California ruling does and doesn’t have implications for Michigan, depending on how you look at it, he said.

“Obviously, it’s a California law and doesn’t really affect us in Michigan,” Meeks said. “But as the community realizes this is a violation of rights for gays and lesbians, it’s definitely a step forward.”

Swope also believes a Michigan referendum overturning the ban is unlikely but said it’s “definitely a possibility” that the California ruling reaches the Supreme Court.

Meeks said there is still plenty of work to do and that Equality Michigan will continue to move forward on LGBT rights.

“We look forward to the day when no one is discriminated against,” he said.