gay and lesbian rights

Dana Nessel Discusses the Expansion of LGBT Protections Under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act

Dana Nessel, one of the leading litigators of LGBT issues in Michigan, spoke out in an interview with Stateside about the lack of federal laws protecting LGBT people.

Currently, there are no federal or state protections for sexual orientation or gender identity. Prior protections imposed by the Obama administration are currently being rolled back by the Trump administration. Without support on the federal level, it is up to each state to implement protections for the LGBT community.

Because of her extensive litigation experience, Dana Nessel is considered one of the top criminal attorneys in Michigan. She began her private practice in 2005 and became a staunch defender of constitutional rights. Dana is currently recognized as one of the premier litigators of LGBT issues.

Dana is concerned by the injustices faced by the LGBT community in Michigan. She spoke with Stateside last month about these issues.

“The LGBT community frequently faces evictions, termination from employment and refusal of medical treatment for both them and their children.” said Dana Nessel of Nessel & Kessel Law. “This makes it incredibly scary to be an LGBT person in the state of Michigan.”

Expanding the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT community could be extremely beneficial to the bottom line of Michigan-based businesses. It would make it possible for companies to access and retain top talent and increase their sales. Currently, LGBT people and their allies avoid living in Michigan because of its treatment of the LGBT community.

The Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act passed in Michigan in 1977. The act prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight or marital status when it comes to housing, education, employment and access to public accommodations. There have been many efforts since 1983 to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include the LGBT community.

“70% of Michigan residents support equal rights for LGBT people.” said Nessel “Unfortunately, because of gerrymandering this expansion is not likely to occur in the near future. The best opportunity we have for an amendment of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act is through a ballot proposal.”

About Nessel & Kessel Law

Nessel & Kessel Law was established in 2012 by Dana Nessel and Chris Kessel. Nessel & Kessel Law specializes in cases that other attorneys tend to avoid. Nessel & Kessel received national attention for Dana Kessel’s case against Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Today, Nessel & Kessel law is one of Michigan’s top criminal defense firms. For a consultation, you can contact us.

The National Media Focuses on DeBoer v Snyder

At Nessel and Kessel Law, specifically Dana Nessel, we have been fielding requests from media outlets from all over the world regarding our challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. 

Here is a link to a recent story done by the New York Times, featuring our clients and their attorney, Dana Nessel.

Here is a link to another recent story done by The Guardian, a Manchester, England based newspaper. 

Lesbian Couple Refused Treatment by Doctor

Recently, members of the Michigan Legislature decided – in their infinite wisdom – that the Elliot Larson Act (Michigan’s Civil Rights Act) would not be amended to protects against discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Krista and Jami Contreras, a couple from southeast Michigan, adopted their daughter in October 2014.  Naturally, they sought out a pediatrician for their infant daughter.  Dr. Vesna Roi came highly recommended to them by the midwife who assisted on the birth of their daughter.  The couple met with Dr. Roi, who appeared to look forward to treating their newly born daughter.  However, when Krista and Jami arrived for their daughter’s first wellness appointment they were told by one of Dr. Roi’s colleagues that she (Dr. Roi) would not be treating their daughter because of the couples’ sexual orientation.  Yes, that’s right, a doctor refused to treat a patient because of the parents’ sexual orientation.  Here is a link to a story by Fox 2’s Amy Lange, where Krista, Jami, and civil rights attorney Dana Nessel speak about the situation. 

Unfortunately, law makers in Michigan seem intent on allowing for state sanctioned, protected discrimination  against members of the LGBT community.  The current state of the Michigan law allows for workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, refusal of basic medical services because of a patient’s sexuality, housing discrimination, educational discrimination, refusal to allow for second parent adoptions in the cases of same-sex couples, and of course, the denial of the right to marry.  Now, as we can see, Michigan’s laws even allow for the refusal of medical services because of a family member’s sexual orientation.  The fact that there are ZERO protections for members of the LGBT community is something that the Michigan Legislature is clearly very proud of.   

At Nessel and Kessel Law, we are proud to stand up for the rights of members of the LGBT community.  Nessel and Kessel Law has spearheaded Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, and are headed to the United States Supreme Court in April, to fight for this basic human right.  If you or a loved one has been discriminated against because of sexual orientation or your status as a member of the LGBT community, contact the attorneys at Nessel and Kessel Law today. 

Frank Beckman Interview

April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse Challenge Michigan Same-Sex Partner Adoption Ban

Two mothers filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday morning designed to protect their three children and many others in Michigan.

Detroit-area lesbian couple April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse have adopted two boys and one girl over the past two years. The three children, who have been raised since just after birth by DeBower and Rowse, would otherwise be in Michigan’s foster care system, according to WXYZ.

In his recent State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder praised parents who chose to adopt in Michigan, bringing special attention to Lamar and Holly Moreland, heterosexual parents in Canton, Mich., for adopting two of their three children. But because Michigan’s Adoption Code prohibits joint adoption by unmarried or same-sex couples, each of DeBower and Rowse’s children has only been adopted by one of the two parents.

“Jayne and I love our children as deeply as any other parent loves their kids,” Rowse said in a statement. “We just want our children to have the same protections all other children have, so that our kids know they can never be taken from either of us.”

Rowse and DeBoer’s lawsuit claims that Michigan’s Adoption Code violates the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. According to the Detroit Free Press, the suit says children who have unmarried second parents are denied a wide range of benefits available to children of married couples. Since Rowse and DeBoer are not both legal parents to all of their children, only one of them can make legal and medical decisions for each child. If one partner dies, the other has no legal claim to the children she did not legally adopt.

Michigan is one of five states that bans joint adoption by unmarried parents. In the past seven years, several proposals have been introduced to allow second-parent adoption, but none have been passed. In 2011, two new state proposals, House Bill 4249 and Senate Bill 169, were introduced and are currently sitting in committee.

A spokeswoman for the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the federal level, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act — legislation introduced in the House and Senate last year — would make it illegal to discriminate in adoption and foster care placement based on the marital status and sexual orientation of parents.

“With this bill they are looking past partisan politics,” said Emily Dievendorf, director of policy for Equality Michigan. “It’s a really great example to set for the states: ‘We can’t wait for you to make progress before we take care of our kids.'”

Michigan has had a steady increase of households run by same-sex couples, jumping 41 percent from 2000 to 2010 for a total of 21,782, according to the 2010 census. At the same time, same-sex couple adoption has risen nationally, despite barriers to adoption and rights for children.

Deivendorf said that while similar legislation and lawsuits have not led to change in the past, she is hopeful that research about the positive effects of two-parent families will trigger change.

“We’ve gone through nearly a decade of fighting to get what all psychologists and social workers and scientists say is the best way to meet children’s needs,” she said. “This is an opportunity for the state government to wake up and do something about it before it becomes an embarrassment.”

Lesbian Couple Fight Michigan Law That Prohibits Adoptions by Unmarried Couples


A lesbian couple from Oakland County filed a federal lawsuit today to overturn a state law that prevents unmarried couples in gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships from jointly adopting children.


April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, state-certified foster parents who are trying to jointly adopt three abandoned or surrendered newborns that they took into their household during the past two years, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

“The State of Michigan found these women good enough to put their blood, sweat and tears into raising these children,” their lawyers, Dana Nessel of Detroit and Carole Stanyar of Plymouth, said in a prepared statement announcing the suit. “To now deny them the opportunity to both become legal parents to the children they love, and who are the only parents they have ever known, is totally irrational and serves no legitimate purpose.”

There was no immediate comment from Gov. Rick Snyder or Attorney General Bill Schuette, who were sued in their official capacities.

The lawsuit seeks to enjoin Snyder, Schuette and judges from blocking second parent adoptions in Michigan.

DeBoer, a neo-natal intensive care nurse, and Rowse, an emergency room nurse, have been in a committed relationship for 10 years, the suit said. During the past two years, they took in two boys and a girl shortly after they were born.

DeBoer adopted a 23-month-old girl who was surrendered by her 19-year-old mother. Rowse adopted the 2-year-old boys. One was born to a homeless woman and the other to a drug-addicted prostitute. All three children have experienced health problems.

Rowse wants to adopt the girl and DeBoer wants to adopt the boys, but they can’t under Michigan law. The state Constitution prohibits same-sex couples from marrying. Although married couples and single people can adopt a child in Michigan, an unmarried couple cannot. Only one of the parents may adopt.

The lawsuit seeks to strike down the prohibition on the grounds that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. It says children of unmarried second parents seeking to adopt in Michigan are denied legal, emotional, financial, social, medical and other benefits.

The suit says sociological and psychological evidence shows that unmarried straight, gay or lesbian couples are just as loving, carrying and effective parents as married couples.

The suit said there are major benefits for children to have two legal parents rather than one, including the right to have a parent if the first parent dies, the right to dependency benefits such as social security, workers compensation, pensions, insurance, and the right to have at least one parent available to make decisions if the other parent is unavailable or incapacitated.

“Jayne and I love our children as deeply as any other parent loves their kids,” DeBoer said in the statement announcing the suit. “We just want our children to have the same protections all other children have so that our kids know they can never be taken from either of us.”

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman.


Same Sex Couple Fight to Change Adoption Laws in Michigan


DETROIT (WXYZ) – Imagine not being allowed to adopt a child you had raised since birth. That is what some same-sex partners are facing. Michigan is among a handful of states that still offers no legal protections for gays and lesbians – and that can have major consequences for their children.

7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo has an exclusive look at what could be a landmark legal battle that’s brewing in Michigan.

A local lesbian couple has been raising three children since birth, kids who otherwise would have been in the foster care system. One of the women adopted one child – while the other woman had to adopt the other two – that’s because the law in Michigan won’t let them jointly adopt all three kids. And they’re hoping this lawsuit will change the lives of children all over Michigan.

April Deboer and Jayne Rowse have dedicated their lives to raising three small children – two of whom have special needs. April and Jayne are both nurses – and they have been in a committed relationship for more than a decade.

“We didn’t find our children, our children found us,” says Doboer.

The couple tried artificial insemination – but April miscarried triplets.  They tried several private adoptions – only to have their hearts broken again and again when birth mother’s would change their minds.

But one day, a young homeless woman who was unable to care for a child gave birth to Nolan.  April and Jayne brought the baby home – and Jayne ultimately adopted Nolan.  Because the Michigan Constitution bans same-sex marriage – same-sex couples cannot jointly adopt children.

“I don’t see how that puts the best interest of the child at the forefront,” says Rowse.

A year later, a teenage mom gave birth at home, and then gave up baby Ryanne under Michigan’s Safe Haven law at the hospital. April jumped at the chance to adopt the little girl.  But, again, Jayne cannot legally be Ryanne’s parent as well.

Then came baby Jacob, who was born to a drug-addicted mother, and delivered prematurely at 25 weeks.  Ironically, April and Jayne could become legal same-sex foster parents to Jacob, but now that Jayne has officially adopted him, April has no parental rights.

“When we were foster parents, we had more rights to our children than we do now as adoptive parents,” says Rowse. “We each had the legal say-so in what happened to our foster son.  And now that he’s adopted, she’s like an invisible person to him in the eyes of the law.”

“Michigan has some of the worst laws in the country for gay and lesbian parents,” says attorney Carole Stanyar, who represents the couple. “And these laws in particular are hurting families, and as we can see in this case, they’re hurting children.”

That’s why Stanyar and attorney Dana Nessel are filing this lawsuit against Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette.  They’re challenging Michigan’s Adoption Code, which only allows married couples or single people to adopt children.

“In our view, a law that is based on irrational prejudice with no legitimate purpose is unconstitutional, plain and simple,” says Nessel.

Nessel says the legal rights of children of same-sex couples are being hurt in many ways.  If one of their parents dies, the other parent would have no legal claim to the child.

“So in the event something happened to her, not only would her children lose their mom, but they would also lose the only other parent they know and their sibling,” says Doboer.

Also, when April takes the boys to the doctor, she has to take Jayne with her.

“I can’t legally sign for treatments. I can’t legally sign for anything.  I have to wait for her to show up to the hospital in order to get treatment,” she says.

Lawyers say the children of same-sex couples also don’t have the same inheritance rights that other kids do. They also can’t receive social security disability from the non-adoptive parent, or health insurance.  Also if a same-sex couple separates, they have no legal ability to see the children that they didn’t adopt.

Nessel says if this civil rights suit changes the law, approximately 10,000 children in same-sex homes in Michigan will be impacted.  And she believes hundreds of other same-sex couples will start giving permanent homes to foster children.

“They want to take children who have no homes, who have no parents and give them a real family, says Nessel. “And they’re afraid to do it, because they don’t want to be faced with the decision of who gets to be the legal parent of the child.  So they simply don’t do it or they leave the state.”

“We want to protect our children,” says Deboer. “We want our children to stay in the family that they know, because it’s the only family that they know.”

A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says they can’t comment on the lawsuit because it hasn’t been filed and they haven’t seen it yet. But Snyder’s spokesperson says when they do have it, the Attorney General will review it.

The lawsuit was filed Monday morning in Federal Court.

If this lawsuit successfully changes the law, lawyers estimate about 10,000 children who are already in same-sex partner homes will be impacted. The suit is being funded solely through private donations. For more information visit:

Read more:

Lesbian Women Sue over Adoption Ban for Unmarried Couples

HAZEL PARK, Mich. – HAZEL PARK, Mich. (AP) — Two lesbians who are raising three children filed a lawsuit Monday to overturn Michigan’s ban on adoption by unmarried couples.

April DeBoer, with two adopted children, and Jayne Rowse, with one, are longtime partners and nurses who live together with the kids in suburban Detroit. But under state law, they can’t adopt them as a couple, an option available only to heterosexual married couples.

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Lesbian couple fight Michigan law that prohibits adoptions by same-sex couples

A lesbian couple from Oakland County filed a federal lawsuit today to overturn a state law that prevents parents in gay, lesbian and heterosexual relationships from jointly adopting children.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, state-certified foster parents who are trying to adopt three abandoned or surrendered newborns that they took into their household during the past two years, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Read More

Gay Mom Turned Down By Supreme Court

Renee Harmon seeks custody of three children she raised with former partner
By Tara Cavanaugh

Originally printed (Issue 1929 – Between The Lines News)

After being turned away from the Michigan Supreme Court, Renee Harmon, a mother who has not seen her three children in two years, will now pursue her case through federal court.

Harmon is seeking custody rights for the children she raised with her former partner, Tammy Davis. Harmon appealed to the Supreme Court for the right to be able to present evidence showing she acted as a parent. The Supreme Court denied her request in a 3-4 decision on July 22.

Under Michigan law, Harmon was never a legally-recognized parent to the children she raised for ten years. Davis and Harmon planned the children together, and Davis bore the children through artificial insemination. Michigan adoption law does not explicitly say that same-sex couples cannot adopt, but many adoption judges have interpreted the law to say so.

Harmon is represented by two lawyers, Nicole Childers and Dana Nessel. Nessel is not surprised that the case was turned away by the state Supreme Court.

“Something we can’t help but notice is that this decision comes on the heels of the new laws that allow marriage in the state of New York,” Nessel said. “While thousands of New York families can now celebrate their newfound rights, Renee’s been mourning the loss of her three children. We see a stark contrast between what other states are doing in moving forward and what Michigan is doing, which is moving backwards at every step.

“We think that’s shameful and we think better of our state than that.”

The three Democratic judges on the state Supreme Court, Justice Michael F. Cavanagh, Justice Diane M. Hathaway and Justice Marilyn J. Kelly, dissented. Justice Kelly authored a scathing dissent of the decision, writing: “Plaintiff’s application raises significant constitutional questions that this Court has not yet considered. Courts across the country are grappling with similar issues… Yet the majority today declines to consider plaintiff’s arguments… This case cries out for a ruling from the state’s highest courts.”

After the ruling, Harmon said she felt “Devastated. Discouraged. But I guess in the back of my mind I knew … there was a very good possibility that (the judges) would follow party lines, and that’s exactly what they did. So I was prepared. But I held out some hope. But I’m also determined to keep going forward.”

Nessel said that LGBT foundations and community centers have been unwilling to support Harmon’s quest for rights to her children. “Any time we have tried to do anything either with Renee’s case, or with other cases that involve same-sex second parent adoption issues, it’s unfortunately our experience and it’s been Renee’s experience that the LGBT groups don’t seem interested in supporting legal causes,” she said.

“Even though it’s our opinion that it’s the best way to change the law in Michigan when you have a legislature that is clearly unsupportive of that.

Harmon plans for a fundraiser to help pay legal fees this fall. To contribute, search for “Harmie’s Army” on Facebook.