Judge strikes down Michigan’s ban on gay marriage

 Michigan’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge said Friday as he struck down a law that was widely embraced by voters a decade ago — the latest in a recent series of decisions overturning similar prohibitions across the country.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

He noted that supporters of same-sex marriage believe the Michigan ban was at least partly the result of animosity toward gays and lesbians.

lesbians_small Judge strikes down Michigan's ban on gay marriage

“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage,” Friedman said. “Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

The decision was filed shortly after 5 p.m. in Detroit, when most county clerk offices were closed. Clerks issue marriage licenses in Michigan.

Attorney General Bill Schuette said he would immediately ask a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman’s decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.

Two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, want to get married, but the original purpose of their 2012 lawsuit was to overturn Michigan’s ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples.

They are raising three adopted children with special needs at their Hazel Park home. But they can’t jointly adopt each other’s kids because joint adoption in the state is tied exclusively to marriage.

Attorney Dana Nessel read portions of the decision on live TV at the kitchen table in the DeBoer-Rowse home.

“It’s unbelievable,” DeBoer said on television. “We got our day in court. We won.”

Rowse, 49, and DeBoer, 42, didn’t testify, and the trial had nothing to do with their relationship. In fact, attorneys for the state told the judge that they are great parents.

Instead, the state urged the judge to respect the results of a 2004 election in which 59 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment that said marriage in Michigan can only be between a man and a woman. Conservative scholars also questioned the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

The judge wasn’t moved.

“State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people,” Friedman said. “No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples.”

Experts testifying for Rowse and DeBoer said there were no differences between the kids of same-sex couples and the children raised by a man and woman. And the University of Texas took the extraordinary step of disavowing the testimony of sociology professor Mark Regnerus, who was a witness for Michigan.

One Reply to “Judge strikes down Michigan’s ban on gay marriage”

  1. I have read the judge’s opinion and am pleased to note that he addressed the demise of Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1973), noting that “doctrinal developments” had severely undermined the precedential value of this decision to the point of irrelevancy. Since Baker was handed down, the US Supreme Court has handed down Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996) (invalidating a Colorado state constitutional amendment (Amendment 2) which had the “immediate effect” of invalidating all state statutes, ordinances, and other measures, across all three branches of state government, which protected gay persons from discrimination; and which had the “ultimate effect” of prohibiting any such measures from ever being adopted again, absent a superseding amendment reversing Amendment 2). The Court has also overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 1 (1986) (permitting the states to criminalize gay sexual intimacy, even in private settings between consenting adults) in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003). In Lawrence, Justice Kennedy (writing for the majority) was blunt and to the point when he announced that “Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.” Then just last year, the Court handed down United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12 (2013), thereby striking down Section 3 of DOMA and mandating that the US federal government grant to gay married couples the same rights that it grants to married heterosexual couples (more than 1,130 such rights, benefits, and privileges have been identified). To argue that no “doctrinal developments” have occurred with respect to the issue of gay marriage, especially given the fact that the US Supreme Court failed to so much as mention Baker in Windsor and in Hollingsworth v. Perry (finding that the appellants lacked standing to appeal the District Court’s decision in Perry v, Schwarzenegger) is patently unrealistic, to the point of absurdity.

    Baker is a dead letter.

    The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has just handed down Bostic v. Harris, affirming the decision of the District Court in Virginia which found Virginia’s statutes and state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage to be unconstitutional. This is the second Court of Appeals decision to uphold lower court decisions striking down gay marriage.

    PHILIP CHANDLER

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