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Topics In the News
Federal Judge Invalidates Michigan Marriage Amendment
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/21/14
Last updated on: 03/22/14
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The DeBoer-Rowse family.

In an opinion released on March 21, 2014, Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. In a case brought by two lesbian parents who originally sought only to adopt jointly their three children, Judge Friedman found that Michigan's ban not only fails to serve any legitimate state interest, but it also harms the children of same-sex couples. In addition, Judge Friedman dismissed the testimony of discredited University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus and other state witnesses as worthless. Although Judge Friedman did not stay his ruling, Michigan Attorney General Schuette has filed a notice of appeal and an emergency request for a stay of the ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case, DeBoer v. Snyder, originated in 2012, when Jayne and April DeBoer-Rowse sought to adopt their children jointly. Judge Friedman encouraged the women to amend their suit to challenge Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, which was adopted by voter referendum in 2004. It was the ban, Judge Friedman noted, that was the barrier to their joint adoption. If they were allowed to marry, they would be able to adopt their children.

In March 2013, Judge Friedman delayed continuation of the case until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its rulings in the marriage cases, Windsor and Hollingsworth. After those rulings were handed down on June 26, 2013, he announced that rather than simply rule on the law, he would conduct a full-fledged trial of fact, similar to that conducted by Judge Vaughn Walker in 2010 when he presided over the Proposition 8 case.

Like the Prop 8 trial, the DeBoer trial was also a clash of opposing experts. And just as in the Proposition 8 case, the proponents' chief witness, David Blankenhorn, wound up aiding the plaintiffs, so in the Michigan case the so-called experts called by the state helped the cause of marriage equality. Indeed, the trial had the salutary effect of exposing the utter emptiness of the arguments against same-sex marriage.

Judge Friedman's eloquent opinion, which may be found here, eviscerates the testimony of the state's witnesses, including especially that of Regnerus, which he found "entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration." The judge not only found Regnerus's fraudulent study flawed on its face, but he also correctly perceived it as hack work intended to deceive rather than to contribute to science. "The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged," Judge Friedman observed.

In contrast, the experts who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs--Harvard historian Nancy Cott, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, UCLA demographer (and glbtq.com contributor) Gary Gates, and University of Michigan law professor Vivek Sankaran--were found to be credible and helpful in the evidence they provided about the history of marriage, the parenting skills of same-sex couples, and the harm done to the children of same-sex couples by Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage.

The evidence presented by the plaintiffs completely undercut the supposed rationality of the law. The evidence showed that rather than promoting the state's interest in responsible parenting, the ban actually harmed children in very concrete ways, particularly the children of same-sex parents.

After rehearsing the expert testimony and the findings of fact, Judge Friedman considered the legal arguments. In this section, he found that the ban "impermissibly discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the provision does not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest."

Because the ban is unconstitutional even when considered under the most lenient standard of review, Judge Friedman found it unnecessary to decide whether a heightened level of review is warranted in the case.

Judge Friedman considered carefully and then dismissed the state's various legal arguments. He declined to ascribe animus to the approximately 2.7 million voters who enacted the marriage ban, but pointedly observed that while the religious convictions of Michigan residents may govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage, "Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law. The same Constitution that protects the free exercise of one's faith in deciding whether to solemnize certain marriages rather than others, is the same Constitution that prevents the state from either mandating adherence to an established religion, . . . or 'enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose.'"

The decision concludes with a moving tribute to April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse: "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. It is the Court's fervent hope that these children will grow up 'to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.'"

Judge Friedman's decision beautifully "affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail."

Although Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed an emergency motion requesting a stay of Judge Friedman's decision pending appeal with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal, there have been reports that the clerks of some counties, including Washtenaw County, plan to remain open this weekend to issue marriage licenses and to waive the three-day waiting period for same-sex couples.

The video below, from WXYZ-TV in Detroit, depicts the reaction of Jayne and April DeBoer-Rowse to the news of their victory in court.

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