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Grand Rapids attorney to argue in favor of gay marriage ban in Supreme Court

Posted at 5:18 PM, Apr 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-24 17:18:43-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- He is the man who has been hired by the State of Michigan to argue in favor of upholding the existing ban on same-sex marriage in front of the United States Supreme Court next week.

John Bursch--a Grand Rapids-based attorney who works for the Warner Norcross & Judd law firm--has appeared in front of the Supreme Court eight times during his career. Bursch is also one of the attorneys who argued against affirmative action for the state in its lawsuit against the University of Michigan back in 2013.

He's appeared in front of the Michigan Supreme Court 15 times.

At the heart of his argument for next Tuesday: who should ultimately decide whether same-sex couples can legally marry?

"This case is about who gets to decide important questions that affect our society: Is it the courts or is it the people," he told FOX 17 on Friday.

Our (Michigan’s) position is that the Constitution doesn’t say what version of marriage is better than another version and when that’s the case, it’s up to the people to decide.”

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (WJBK)

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse (WJBK)

The case to be heard Tuesday in front of the U.S. Supreme Court stems, in part, from the lawsuit brought against the state by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple from Metro Detroit who were denied the right to jointly adopt each other's children because of the state's ban on gay marriage.

"It's hard to imagine we set out to adopt kids we did not set out to get married or change the United States," DeBoer said.

The DeBoer v. Snyder case will be heard along with three other state's cases--Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee--on April 28 in a joint case that will officially be referred to as Obergefell v. Hodges.

Urban legend has it Bursch received a perfect score on his bar exam. It's something he laughs about and admits was a wild rumor that started during his career with the Attorney General's Office. While untrue, it speaks to his reputation in the legal world where he is known for his trademarked compelling arguments.

The 14th Amendment will play a major role in the arguments he will present, and whether equal protections for all includes allowing same-sex couples to wed. Bursch argues no, despite changing public sentiment in recent years.

“Some people think marriage is all about honoring love and commitment, many people would think that’s an important component of marriage. But the state doesn’t have any interest in recognizing love and commitment in the abstract," he said. "There’s no reason why the government should care about that.”

Bursch will instead argue the state's 2004 voter approved ban on gay marriage, where nearly 3 million Michiganders chose to uphold the state's existing constitutional definition of marriage, is representative of popular opinion. Any change should require another voter referendum, he said.

"It shows the democratic process still has a role to play here. That when opinions shift, you go back to the ballot box and maybe you make a different choice and see how that goes," Bursch said.

"If I have a definition of marriage I want you to vote for, we need to sit down in a civil way and I need to persuade you based on the ideas and logic I have. When you turn to the court instead and force your vision on someone else then that dialogue doesn’t happen.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday with a decision expected before the end of the session on June 30.

FOX 17 will have a crew in Washington D.C. with live coverage beginning Monday on FOX 17 News at 4.