Michigan Gay Marriage Ban Rejected as State Seeks Appeal

Michigan’s gay marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, making it the 21st state where same-sex unions are deemed legal and prompting its attorney general to seek and win a temporary hold on the order.

U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman in Detroit said the state’s voter-enacted 2004 constitutional amendment barring same-sex unions violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection. Yesterday’s decision came two weeks after the end of a nine-day non-jury trial.

Friedman, appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, criticized the state’s stance that its opposition reflected the preference of the electorate and lit into the witnesses Michigan called to make its case.

“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’” the judge said, “state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people.”

His conclusion follows similar rulings this year by federal judges in Oklahoma and Virginia, and a December decision by a U.S. judge in Utah. Those rulings have been put on hold while they are appealed, and may eventually come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, seeking to put the ruling on hold while he appeals it, won an order today from the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati delaying the order from taking effect until March 26 while it considers that request.

‘Not Interchangeable’

“The citizens of Michigan recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” the attorney general said in a statement. “Their will should stand.”

The Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Michigan federal court rulings, plus a state court decision in New Jersey last year, all followed a pair of June decisions by the Supreme Court.

One let stand a California federal court decision that the state’s voter-enacted same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. The other invalidated the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that limited U.S. recognition to marriages between one man and one woman.

Legal challenges to state bans have been lodged in Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Oregon, among other states.

A federal judge in the Oregon case is scheduled to hear arguments on the state’s ban on April 23. State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, has said she won’t defend the law because she believes it’s unconstitutional.

Attorneys General

Democratic attorneys general in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada and Kentucky have taken the same stance.

Opponents of Nevada’s ban appealed a ruling rejecting their challenge, which was issued by a trial court before the Supreme Court’s June rulings. Oral arguments in that case, which had been set for April 9, were postponed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco. A new date hasn’t been set.

A federal judge in Kentucky ruled that the state’s ban on recognizing gay marriages performed in states where they are legal is also unconstitutional. Enforcement of the Kentucky ruling has been delayed pending appeal. A federal judge in Tennessee issued a similar ruling, while limiting its effect to the three couples who filed the lawsuit. Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, a Democrat, is defending the state in that case.

The Michigan case was filed by emergency room nurse Jayne Rowse and neonatal nurse April DeBoer, who sought to marry and adopt each other’s children. The Hazel Park, Michigan couple have lived together for eight years and own their home, according to yesterday’s ruling.

‘Monumental Day’

“It’s a pretty historical, monumental day in Michigan,” Rowse told reporters after the ruling. DeBoer said the couple would wait until the litigation was over before marrying, explaining that once wed they want to stay that way.

Friedman said the court’s record can’t fully convey the sacrifices DeBoer and Rowse made “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.”

In setting the case for trial, the judge had said he wanted the parties to focus on whether there was a rational basis for the state’s prohibition. He said in his ruling that the law “does not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest.”

Friedman weighed in on the evidence presented at the non-jury trial. He found credible the testimony of a sociologist called by DeBoer and Rowse who said there’s no discernible difference between the parenting abilities of gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts.

‘Entirely Unbelievable’

Michigan’s experts didn’t fare as well. Friedman condemned as “entirely unbelievable” the testimony of Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas in Austin.

Regnerus said a study he conducted found that children of parents who had a same-sex relationship were less likely to pursue an education and more likely to be unemployed or get arrested.

The judge said the study was “hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder” who had said research was needed to counter studies showing no difference in child outcomes.

“The funder clearly wanted a certain result and Regnerus obliged,” Friedman said. He called another Michigan witness’s testimony “largely unbelievable.”

The case is DeBoer v. Snyder, 12-cv-10285, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).

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