March 20, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Court strikes down Michigan marriage ban
April DeBoer, Jayne Rowse, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, gay marriage

April DeBoer (on left) and Jayne Rowse filed the lawsuit against Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage (Washington Blade file photo by Chris Johnson).

A federal court in Michigan made the latest in a series of rulings in favor of marriage equality by striking down the Wolverine State’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

In a 31-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, a Reagan appointee, ruled on Friday the state’s prohibition on gay nuptials violated the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“After reviewing the evidence presented at the trial, including the testimony of various expert witnesses, the exhibits, and stipulations, and after considering all of the legal issues involved, the Court concludes that the MMA is unconstitutional and will enjoin its enforcement,” Friedman writes.

Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, known as Michigan Proposal 04-2, was approved as part of the state constitution by 59 percent of Michigan voters in 2004.

Friedman devotes a considerable portion of his decision to the ban’s impact on same-sex couples and the children they raise, drawing on language used by U.S. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy in his ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act.

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

Nowhere does the ruling mention a stay on the decision. Rana Elmire, a spokesperson for the ACLU of Michigan, said her organization believes same-sex couples can marry immediately in the state.

Although Elmire initially said clerks’ offices are reopening to marry couples in the wake of the ruling, the ACLU of Michigan later tweeted that it can’t confirm reports that clerks offices are re-opening

Two of the clerk’s offices for the more populous counties in Michigan — Washtenaw and Oakland — were already closed when the ruling was handed down and had no one answering calls when the Blade contacted them to see if they would reopen. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, was present when the ruling was handed down, but said her office would remain closed until Monday at 8 am.

But according to a tweet from Gongwer News Service, the Washtenaw County clerk’s office will be open at 9 am on Saturday to distribute marriage licenses.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, also said he believes same-sex couples can marry at once in Michigan — as long as clerk’s offices are open.

“I am not sure if any city halls or clerk’s offices are open over the weekend, but if so, then marriages could take place immediately,” Minter said.

Michigan has a three-day waiting period after obtaining a license and being able to wed, but that waiting period can be waived for an additional fee that varies between county to county.

Now that the district has ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, state officials — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, who have been defending the law in court — have the option to appeal to the decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Immediately after the ruling, Schuette filed a notice of appeal with the court, saying he and Snyder “hereby appeal” the case to the appellate court. All four states within the Sixth Circuit — Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky — now have marriage equality cases before the appeals court.

Schuette said in a statement after the ruling that he has filed an emergency request for a stay and an appeal of the decision. Both were filed before the Sixth Circuit late Friday.

“In 2004 the citizens of Michigan recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” Schuette said. “Michigan voters enshrined that decision in our State constitution, and their will should stand and be respected. I will continue to carry out my duty to protect and defend the Constitution.”

The ruling is the latest in a string of decisions from federal courts against bans on same-sex marriage in states such as Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act. According to Lambda Legal, the decision is the 14th decision in a row from a court striking down a state ban on same-sex marriage after the DOMA decision.

But the decision in Michigan case is the first of the post-DOMA decisions handed down after a trial.

For two weeks, Friedman heard testimony from trial from various witnesses on the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. Among the witnesses the state presented was Mark Regenrus, the author of a widely discredited study denigrating parenting by same-sex couples.

As Think Progress notes, on the witness stand, Regnerus admitted on the witness that he doesn’t know whether excluding same-sex couples from marriage has any impact on the children they raise.

Friedman criticizes the testimony from Regnerus during the trial, saying the court finds his study “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.”

“Whatever Regnerus may have found in this ‘study,’ he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples,” Friedman writes. “It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.”

The case, DeBoer v. Snyder, was filed by private attorneys in January 2012 on behalf of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple in Hazel Park, Mich., who were seeking the ability to jointly adopt their three children. The couple amended their case early last year to seek marriage equality in Michigan, while still pursuing their goal of adoption rights.

As recorded by local TV affiliate WXYZ, DeBoer and Rowze embraced each other and their children with joy after one of their attorneys, Dana Nessel, read aloud the ruling to them.

LGBT advocates praised Friedman for striking down the ban on same-sex marriage and said it’s evidence a nationwide ruling in favor of marriage equality is within reach.

Jay Kaplan, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said the lawsuit at its core was about “protecting Michigan families.”

“We are thrilled that the court found that there is no reason to deny loving, committed same-sex couples and their families the protections that come with marriage,” Kaplan said. “By doing so, the court has underscored the American value that freedom is for everyone.”

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said the win for same-sex couples in Michigan comes after opponents couldn’t identify a single reason why they shouldn’t be able to marry.

“Today’s win comes after a full trial — complete with prosecutors and defendants, witness cross-examinations, and testimony from family experts on the well-being of children — which showed that opponents have nothing more than the same bogus claims they have recycled for decades,” Wolfson said. “They were simply unable to provide a single legitimate reason why committed same-sex couples should be excluded from marriage. Michigan, like all of America, is ready for the freedom to marry.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

4 Comments
  • April and Jayne… You are HEROS not only to your children but to all of us in Michigan who want to have our CIVIL RIGHTS recognized under the law! Thank you for fighting for all of us!

  • BREAKING NEWS! Washtenaw County Clerk's office will be open TOMORROW from 9AM to 1PM – ISSUING MARRIAGE LICENSES to Washtenaw County residents. They anticipate only being able to process 60 couples – so consider getting your paperwork from their website in advance: http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/clerk_register/cr_vitals_marriage_info.html

  • BREAKING: Muskegon County Clerk will be issuing same-sex marriage licenses tomorrow at the Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation to Muskegon County residents. We will share more information as we obtain it.

  • BREAKING: Oakland County Clerk will be open tomorrow from 9am-1pm issuing marriage licenses to Oakland County residents. Bring drivers licenses and birth certificates or passports for marriage license. Please enter via the South entrance of the Courthouse Building.

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