Michigan's Gay Marriage Ban to Go on Trial in February

Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage will remain in place for now after a federal judge opted not to rule on the issue today and instead hold a trial in February — a decision that dashed the hopes of dozens of couples waiting at local clerks’ offices with plans to wed that day if the ban was lifted.
October 17, 2013

By Tresa Baldas and Jim Schaefer

A federal judge on Wednesday punted the issue of gay marriage into next year, opting to hold a trial to determine the fate of Michigan's ban on gay marriage rather than issue a ruling based on what he's heard so far.

"I wish I could sit here today and give you a definitive ruling," U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said in a courtroom packed with nearly 100 gay rights supporters. "There are issues that have to be decided ... I am in the middle. I have to decide this as a matter of law."

And it's a decision that's weighing heavily on Friedman.

"I'm a little nervous," Friedman admitted in court Wednesday. "I've never had a case like this before."

The case involves two Hazel Park nurses who are challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, arguing the bans unlawfully violate their right to get married and adopt each other's children. April DeBoer, 42, and Jayne Rowse, 42, filed their suit in January 2012, initially raising only the adoption issue, but then challenging the gay marriage prohibition as well.

Rowse has two preschool-aged boys; DeBoer has a 3-year-old girl. They argue the state has no "rational basis" for denying them the right to get married and adopt children.

Susan Horowitz, of Farmington Hills, who came to court to support the plaintiffs, said she had hoped for a ruling Wednesday. But she believes that change is coming for gays and lesbians who want to adopt children and get married in Michigan.

"I'm optimistic. I think the outcome is going to go well," Horowitz said of the trial. "We just have to be a little more patient."

The state, meanwhile, argues that the voters of Michigan have already spoken on the issue, and that a federal court should not be allowed to drown out the will of the voters. In 2004, voters approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as "the union of one man and one woman."

"The people of the state of Michigan should be allowed to decide Michigan law," attorney Kristin Heyse, of state Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, said in court.

Heyes said that the state's position "is not an attack" on the gay and lesbian community, and commended the plaintiffs for "doing a wonderful job raising their children." But, she said, "There is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage or adoption."

Heyes went on to say: "The ideal home environment is to have a mother and a father ... the state is not saying that same-sex couples cannot raise children. They certainly can."

The question, Heyse said, is who gets to decide the state's law _ in this case involving domestic issues: the people or the court?

"At the end of the day, the people of Michigan should be allowed to decide ... not the federal courts."

Attorney Carole Stanyar, speaking for DeBoer and Rowse, said the Supreme Court has provided guidance for the court. She said the will of the people should not be disregarded, but precedent allows for scrutiny of laws that may be unconstitutional.

Stanyar, quoting from a case, said that if discrimination was allowed, children would be drinking from separate water fountains. The 14th Amendment would not tolerate those events, nor should they tolerate discrimination against gays and lesbians, she said.

"These marriage bans ... are hurting the most vulnerable members of our society," Stanyar said.

The state has vowed a vigorous fight to uphold the voter-approved constitutional amendment and argues there are "legitimate state interests" in defining marriage as such.

"Michigan supports natural procreation and recognizes that children benefit from being raised by parents of each sex who can then serve as role models of the sexes both individually and together in matrimony," the state has argued in court documents.

(Detroit Free Press writers Gina Damron, Eric D. Lawrence and Niraj Warikoo contributed to this report.)

(c)2013 Detroit Free Press

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