Roane fills NALS members in on history, import of Obergefell ruling



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

June 26 is the day.

Three of the major decisions on LGBT relationships issued by the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) were issued on June 26.

In 2003, SCOTUS ruled that laws criminalizing consensual relations between gay men in the privacy of their homes were unconstitutional (Lawrence v. Texas).

In 2013, the US v. Windsor opinion gave a “yes” answer to the question, “Does the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines the term ‘marriage’ under federal law as a ‘legal union between one man and one woman’ deprive same-sex couples who are legally married under state laws of their Fifth Amendment rights to equal protection under federal law?” This struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and opened up federal benefits to same-sex couples whose marriages were legally recognized.

And the most recent decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, which mandates  performance and recognition of same-sex marriages in all states as well as establishing that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, was also issued on June 26.

Richard A. Roane, the Warner Norcross and Judd attorney well-known for his advocacy of “Marriage is Marriage” (also the name of his presentation), told approximately 35 members of NALS of West Michigan last week that he doubted it was a coincidence. “I think something happened along the lines of maybe some sympathetic person in the clerk’s office docketing it that way,” he said, smiling slyly, provoking laughter. “Mark my words - I predict that someday June 26 is going to be a national holiday, whether nationally recognized or just celebrated around the country.”

In documents he distributed at the NALS group’s monthly luncheon, Roane noted that the “Stonewall Riots” in New York City’s Greenwich Village took place on June 28, 1969. The riots are regarded as kicking off the modern LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered) movement, since it was the first time members of the LGBT community fought back in an organized way against the discrimination they were experiencing based on their sexual preference.

A year later, New York City held the first “Gay Pride Parade” to commemorate those riots, a celebration now duplicated in cities small and large around the world, also generally in June.
NALS, the Association for Legal Professionals, has a commitment to hosting lively and informative speakers for its “NALS @ Noon” series. Roane’s presentation, subtitled “The End of Gay Marriage after the SCOTUS?Decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Deboer v. Snyder, et al,” was a stellar example, as Roane is both an entertaining speaker and well-versed in his subject, including having at times been present behind the scenes.

Wil Antonides, past president of the NALS chapter, introduced Roane by recalling that the last time NALS invited him to speak, in 2013, Roane had asked Antonides about his long-time relationship, “What are you waiting for?” based on states’ burgeoning recognition of same-sex marriage. Antonides said this set him thinking, and resulted in his wedding in 2014.

Roane said he often asked people that question, but, “I couldn’t really ask that until I got married myself,” he says, adding, “which I did on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Roane was back at the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges. In an ironic twist, it was one of Roane’s fellow Warner Norcross attorneys, John Bursch, who gave the oral argument opposing legalizing same-sex marriage.

Roane’s stories from that day are priceless. He talked about having stood in one of the lengthy waiting lines (the one for lawyers/members) at the time of the Windsor case, saying he had come unprepared that time. “This time it was warmer, I had snacks, and I even brought a fold-up chair from Meijer,” he said. “There are homeless people who get paid a lot of money to wait in line for some of the ‘perfumed people’ who just show up in the morning. But for me it’s part of the overall experience.”

He explained that plaintiff Obergefell was simply seeking recognition as the surviving spouse after his husband’s death. “After the plaintiffs came for a photograph session, I recognized Jim Obergefell standing alone. I went up to him and said, ‘I don’t know what to say to you other than to thank you for what you’ve done here.’ I was kind of speechless and emotional; I had so much hope for change.

“He said to me, ‘You don’t have to say anything. I did this because I could think of no better way to honor the memory of my husband.’”

Roane, a 1986 graduate of Whittier Law School, has been a family law litigator for 26 years, and specializes in divorce, nonmarital domestic relationships, domestic relations mediation and arbitration, spousal and child support, child custody, complex business valuation distribution and pre- and post-nuptial agreements. He took a special interest in the dilemma faced by same-sex couples who had married in a state where it was legal but wanted a divorce.

“Before Obergefell, if they lived in one of the 13 ‘prohibition states,’ they couldn’t get divorced there,” he said, “and in order to get divorced in most ‘recognition’ states, you would have to live there for six months. How many of our clients can afford to set up a residence in another state and stay there for six months?

“Now I tell people, just as there is no gay marriage, there is no gay divorce.”

Included in the documents Roane passed out to NALS members was an article he co-authored with Richard A. Wilson for the prestigious Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The “Marriage Equality Update” was written before the most recent SCOTUS opinion and is a detailed legal history of LGBT case decisions.

Two Warner Norcross partners contributed topical papers for other hand-outs: Laura Morris on the status of adoptions in Michigan; and Susie Meyers on estate planning and related legal matters, such as Durable Power of Attorney.

In response to a question, Roane reflected on the speed of such legal trends. “There is this sea change of attitude. You’re opposed to it and someone tells you your nephew is gay, and it all changes. As people get to know someone from that community, they change their attitudes. And that’s how the law changes, after all.”

The final document in Roane’s packet was the SCOTUS decision itself, which contains the words by Justice Kennedy so many have found inspiring: “To the respondents, it would demean a timeless institution if marriage were extended to same-sex couples. But the petitioners, far from seeking to devalue marriage, seek it for themselves because of their respect... for its privileges and responsibilities...”