Michigan Gay Marriage Ban Judge Said Challenge Supported
By Andrew Harris – Oct 16, 2013 12:00 AM ET
Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban and prohibition on adoption by unmarried couples come before a federal judge who in July called challengers’ claims plausible in the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman will hear arguments today in Detroit. The lawsuit was filed last year by a gay couple suing for the right to marry and to adopt each other’s children. They claim the twin bars violate their constitutional rights.
Republican Governor Rick Snyder, defending the laws, argued the state has a legitimate interest in promoting “natural procreation,” “optimal parenting” and “family stability.”
The argument comes less than three weeks after a New Jersey state judge ruled that same-sex marriage must be allowed to afford those couples equal protection under that state’s constitution. State Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s decision made New Jersey the 14th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.
In Michigan, Friedman denied Snyder’s bid for dismissal in July, after saying in March he would await the Supreme Court’s decision in a suit seeking to overturn part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act before ruling.
That decision, which struck down DoMA’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes, came in June.
“Construing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs and in view of the Supreme Court’s current statement of the law, this court cannot say plaintiffs’ claims for relief are without plausibility,” Friedman said in July.
The Michigan lawsuit was filed by nurses April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who told the court they’ve been a couple for 12 years, have lived together for six and are joint homeowners.
DeBoer’s daughter was born and adopted in 2010. Rowse adopted two sons in 2009, the same year they were born.
Their initial complaint challenged only the state’s law prohibiting unmarried couples from adopting the other’s children.
In an October 2012 amendment they added a claim that Michigan’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates federal constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process. They decided to challenge the marriage law at Friedman’s suggestion, said Dana Nessel, a lawyer for DeBoer and Rowse, in a phone interview.
In an Aug. 14 brief, lawyers for the women challenged the objectives of the state’s law, noting heterosexual couples can marry regardless of their desire to have children and that gay and heterosexual couples can have children without being married.
“The state’s position that ‘responsible procreation and childrearing’ is advanced by two parents who are married to each other is, for this reason, actually undermined by the ban on same-sex marriage,” the womens’ lawyers said.
Michigan’s citizenry and its legislature have repeatedly rejected attempts to change the state’s law on adoption, which has existed in some form since 1945, according to papers filed with the court by Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is also a named defendant in the lawsuit.
The same-sex marriage ban was voted into its constitution in 2004. Since then, two bills to recognize gay marriage have been introduced in the state’s legislature to no avail, according to the state’s papers.
“Michigan has never recognized a same-sex marriage, and the citizens of this state have repeatedly decided to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage,” Schuette said in the filing.
Rowse and DeBoer live in Oakland County, Michigan. County Clerk Bill Bullard initially had been a named as a defendant in the suit because the clerk’s office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses. In November, he was voted out in favor of Lisa Brown, who doesn’t oppose the women’s suit and has filed court papers stating she believes the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Lawyers for the state have asked Friedman to re-align Brown’s position in the case so that she is regarded as a plaintiff and not a defendant.
The case is DeBoer v. Snyder, 12-cv-10285, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).
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