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What’s going on in the Michigan case for same-sex marriage equality?

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will soon hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in the Sixth Circuit — a jurisdiction that also includes Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee — but the decision is one that will affect same-sex couples, and their families in states across the nation.

All eyes are on Michigan.

Bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan have been in place since 1996; gay and lesbian couples have been denied even the simplest of relationship recognition since 2004, when state voters passed a constitutional amendment banning civil unions as well as marriage. And now, 11 years later, Michigan is quite possibly the most important state for marriage equality right now, and its all thanks to April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who, working with Dana Nessel, filed a one-of-a-kind federal lawsuit known as DeBoer v. Snyder.

DeBoer and Rowse went to court not to challenge the ban, per se, but hoping to change second-parent adoption laws, in order to better protect their family. They, along with their attorney went before U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who strongly suggested that they expand the scope of their argument to deal with marriage equality in general.

After a trial argued in partnership with American Civil Liberties Union and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, Judge Friedman handed down his ruling in January 2014: Same-sex marriage bans in Michigan were unconstitutional, and couples must be allowed to wed unhindered. But it was not to be, not for long.

On November 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Friedman’s decision, upholding the bans as they are in place. Seems like a bit of political ping pong, does it not? Plaintiffs then petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision, and in January of this year, the court granted their request.

What happens next?

SCOTUS is scheduled to hold its final session of oral arguments April 20–29, and so the same-sex marriage cases will likely be heard during that time. All parties anticipate an issuance of the Supreme Court’s opinion before the end of the term, in June 2015. This timeline is, of course, still purely speculative, and may change.

If the Justices’ collective gavel comes down in favor of marriage equality, there will be much reason to celebrate, and at the same time: Much confusion. Antigay state officials will attempt to delay compliance, and some may even refuse to issue marriage licenses until forced to do so.

If the decision falls in the other direction — though unlikely — the status quo will remain. In those states with marriage equality, same-sex couples will still be able to wed. But in those states with bans in place (like Michigan), bans there still will be.

But let’s not think of that just yet.

For now, plaintiffs Jayne Rowse & April DeBoer are excitedly planning their very first trip to the nation’s capital, and attorneys on either side of the issue are preparing arguments that, one way or another, will surely change the course of history.

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