Focus and Law

Roane becomes an unexpected activist

Gay attorney embraces new role and hopes to effect national change.

December 1, 2012
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With more than 25 years as a marriage and divorce attorney, Richard Roane said he has always tried to make a difference one person at a time, but recently an ACLU dinner has him rethinking that approach.

“I went to the annual ACLU Michigan dinner and heard Dustin Lance Black, who is a national in-your-face activist, openly gay man,” Roane explained. “(He is) the screenwriter for ‘J. Edgar Hoover’ and ‘Milk,’ and won an Academy Award, and this young activist gave a fiery address to the audience. He talked about being an activist, and some people complained that maybe he was pushing too hard and too much. He said, ‘No, I’m pushing just the right amount.’

“That really inspired me and I thought, ‘OK, it’s time to stop being so quiet.’”

Roane, who attended law school in Southern California and moved to Grand Rapids soon after to practice law, said the city back then was a somewhat scary place to be.

“Moving from law school in Los Angeles to conservative Grand Rapids, in a conservative profession, was kind of scary as a closeted gay man,” said Roane.

Those concerns were reinforced by his first boss, who basically told him he didn’t need to be the leader of the parade to make a difference and he might be better served by keeping a lower profile when it came to his personal life.

Today, Roane is the first openly gay partner at Warner Norcross and Judd, and he just agreed to co-chair the new lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/alternative family committee for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a national organization with a membership of 1,600 attorneys and chapters in nearly every state.

Roane currently serves as the president of the AAML Michigan chapter and as a delegate to the national board of governors.

As he talks about the new committee and its first meeting in November, he recognizes his own passion for the issue of marriage equality and the role the Defense of Marriage Act plays.

“I’m becoming an activist and I never expected I would,” he said. “I never was before. I always tried to make a difference in people’s life one person at a time, and now I have an opportunity to make a difference, hopefully, in a lot of people’s lives a whole lot faster.”

Roane is particularly concerned with how the various gay marriage laws and bans are affecting same-sex couples and their children across the country.

“If we have marriage equality, you are not going to have kids that were adopted ending up in two or three years of litigation with their parents, and that’s good for children not to be in litigation. You are not going to have the guy who survived his partner’s death and then got kicked out of the house he’d been in for 20 years.”

Roane has seen both of those situations up close and wants to see the laws changed to prevent them from happening again.

“It’s right to repeal a law at the federal level that purposely targets and discriminates against a huge class of people, including a huge amount of children. And for people who think that this doesn’t affect families, or you have a choice to decide who your spouse is going to be and if you want to choose a same-sex spouse, live with the consequences, what about the children that are in the mix? They don’t choose, and these families do have children. There are many reasons to repeal DOMA, and I am hopeful that Obama, being given a second chance, there is a lot that he can do and that he ought to do.”

Roane will serve for the next three years as the co-chair of the new committee, working with other committees within the AAML and outside of the organization to create and improve laws to address the issues facing alternative families.

“I have the ability through this co-chair position to have some impact on a national level on laws that affect people like me, and this is exciting. So it’s not time to be quiet anymore.

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