Pre-Expo Workshop Focuses on Status of LGBT Rights Post-Marriage Equality

BY JASON A. MICHAEL

DETROIT - The seventh annual Ultimate LGBT Wedding & Anniversary Expo, which took place Sunday at the MotorCity Hotel Casino, kicked off this year with "LGBT Rights in the Trump Era - What Lies Ahead," a workshop that drew about 30 attendees. Speakers included Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT Project of the Michigan ACLU and attorney Angie Martell of the Iglesia Martell Law Firm in Ann Arbor."As a lesbian and leader in the LGBT community, our community was traumatized on Nov. 8," said Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of Between The Lines, to the crowd. "At the paper we were inundated with questions about what does this mean? What does this mean for marriage? What does this mean for our rights? The questions are daunting."

"LGBT Rights in the Trump Era - What Lies Ahead," a workshop that drew about 30 attendees. Speakers included Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT Project of the Michigan ACLU and attorney Angie Martell of the Iglesia Martell Law Firm in Ann Arbor.

"As a lesbian and leader in the LGBT community, our community was traumatized on Nov. 8," said Jan Stevenson, co-publisher of Between The Lines, to the crowd. "At the paper we were inundated with questions about what does this mean? What does this mean for marriage? What does this mean for our rights? The questions are daunting."

Kaplan spoke to the momentous Supreme Court decision that granted gays marriage equality.

"We can't underestimate how monumental that decision was," he said. "As we look at that and appreciate that, we have to also not forget the collateral damage that was left behind from so many years of states like the state of Michigan denying same-sex couples the right to marry, denying recognition of our families, and people who have been left behind based on that Obergefell decision. So in other words, there's still more work we have to do in our state."

Kaplan spoke on a variety of issues, including parenting rights for LGBT couples.

"Right now in the state of Michigan, the Department of Vital Records, if a child is born during a same-sex marriage they will put both parents on the birth certificate," said Kaplan. "They will issue a birth certificate that says both are the parents. However, that birth certificate is not a legal order or parentage."

The result is that the ACLU encourages non-biological parents to file for a stepparent adoption for legal protection.

"It's really not applicable to the situation," said Kaplan. "In other words, this is not a stepparent. These are two people who have come together and decided to raise a family and they're both parents to the child. So we need to come up with a mechanism for this scenario, for same sex couples, that don't require people to have to go through an adoption process just to get a legal order recognizing that both of them are parents.

"So as you can see, these are left over things from years of Michigan law and Michigan jurisprudence having a very limited and very narrow view of what constitutes a family that certainly doesn't take into account the diversity of Michigan families including LGBT families," he continued.

Traditional adoption for same-sex couples is also under attack in Michigan. Just two weeks before the Supreme Court decision came down in 2015, a law was passed that allowed faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that have contracts with the state of Michigan to refuse to work with certain families based on their religious beliefs.

"What we've seen since the passage of this law is that certain faith-based agencies like Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Charities of Michigan, who have the majority of contracts with the state of Michigan, if a same sex couple calls them up and says they're interested in doing an open adoption, a public adoption, they're told, 'Sorry we don't work with you and you'll have to go somewhere else.' [This is] clearly discriminatory and clearly raising some serious constitutional issues."

The excuse of religious freedom is being used more and more these days in an effort to allow individuals and businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT couples.

"In the past two years there have been more than 300 pieces of legislation introduced in state legislatures that our anti-LGBT," said Kaplan. "One of the main mechanisms to try to undo or to try to lessen the rights afforded by marriage equality is by using religion as a basis to exempt from laws and to allow for discrimination...We've seen kind of new slippery slope that's been created through our federal courts recognizing businesses as well as individuals that the businesses' and individuals' religious beliefs can sometimes be used to exempt them from laws when they're engaged in nonreligious activity."

Looking ahead, Martell encouraged attendees to stay alert.

"We're a strong resilient people," said Martell. "We have marched in Washington and we have fought for our lives for a very, very long time. I remember times when we were called homosexual. We were driven outside and beaten by police. Everybody remember Anita Bryant? There's been conversion therapy. There's been lobotomies. There's been a whole plethora of things and we've refused to be silent. So today we are no different and are in no different a position. And I want us to remember that, because we have strength amongst us and we are the face of America."

Martell reminds attendees there will be tough times.

"I know there has been a chipping away of Obergefell and that's what I think Jay pointed out," she said. "We have to be very vigilant about our rights. You have to protect yourselves and your families. We don't have LGBT protections in the state of Michigan. We have no civil rights. Elliot Larsen does not protect us. We can be denied housing. We can be denied food in a restaurant. We can be denied employment. What Obergefell does is it protects marriage. So your status as a married person is protected. I don't see that changing ... what I do see is a chipping away at certain benefits and rights through what Jay talked about, which is the religious exemptions. That people will say I don't want to pick this person up in an ambulance because it violates my religious rights."

Martell reinforces that LGBT people should not be discouraged.

"We shouldn't be scared and fearful," she said. "But we need to be awake and aware."

For more information from Angie Martell, call 734-369-2331, email info@iglesiamartell.com or visit http://iglesiamartell.com/about/. To reach Jay Kaplan, email kaplan@aclumich.org or visit http://www.aclumich.org.
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