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Topics In the News
Michigan Marriage Trial Ends
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/07/14
Last updated on: 03/07/14
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The DeBoer-Rowse family.

On March 7, 2014, the Michigan marriage trial, DeBoer v. Snyder, concluded in a Detroit federal court. After Judge Bernard Friedman heard final arguments from counsel for the plaintiffs and for the state, he promised a decision within two weeks. The lawsuit brought by two Detroit nurses, Jayne and April DeBoer-Rowse, who originally sought only to be allowed to adopt their three children jointly, challenges Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, which was adopted in a 2004 referendum.

The Michigan trial is the first full-length trial on the subject of same-sex marriage since the Proposition 8 trial conducted by Judge Vaughn Walker in 2010. Like that trial, the Michigan case also featured a clash of opposing "experts." And just as the leading expert testifying in favor of Proposition 8, David Blankenhorn, actually wound up aiding the plaintiffs in that case, so in the Michigan case the so-called experts called by the state probably helped more than hurt the cause of marriage equality.

In his closing statement, Ken Mogill, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told Friedman that there is no rational basis for Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. "The right to marry is a fundamental right that should apply regardless of sexual orientation," he said.

Attorneys for the state argued that the voters had acted rationally in adopting the ban because they believed that children do better when raised by opposite-sex married couples.

The state's argument is strained, and their two "experts" revealed themselves as motivated by religious bigotry rather than rationality. Sociology professor Mark Regnerus, whose research has been exposed as fraudulent and denounced by leading academics, including the American Sociological Association, was forced to admit on cross-examination that his study paid for by the right-wing Witherspoon Foundation actually said nothing cogent about the parenting abilities of same-sex couples.

Regnerus also was forced to admit that his opposition to same-sex marriage was "faith-based" and had nothing to do with whether same-sex couples were good parents. Faced with studies that indicate that the children of other groups, such as the poor or the divorced or the remarried, do not do as well as children of married, opposite-sex couples, he said that he would not argue that those groups should be prohibited from marrying.

The state's other "expert," a Canadian economist who is a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, presented highly dubious statistics purporting to show that children of gay and lesbian parents do poorly in school even as he admitted that the statistics he cited were not reliable. Most revealingly, he was forced to acknowledge his religious belief that gay men and lesbians are doomed to hell.

In contrast, the experts for the plaintiffs included leading scholars such as 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. They offered cogent testimony about the law, and the psychological and sociological effects of barring same-sex couples and their children from civil marriage.

As attorney Mogill said of the plaintiffs' experts, "The witnesses are at the top of their fields. . . They all know what they are talking about and don't try to put a spin on it."

In addition, the Court had the benefit of a masterful report from George Chauncey, the Samuel Knight Professor of History & American Studies at Yale University. His report details the ugly history of discrimination suffered by gay men and lesbians in the United States from the early twentieth century until the present. It may be found here.

The evidence as presented in the trial is overwhelming that same-sex couples are as capable of parenting as opposite-sex couples. But that actually should be irrelevant. After all, no parental test is imposed on heterosexual couples as a prerequisite for marriage, so none should be imposed on same-sex couples. Moreover, marriage is not a prerequisite for procreation by either heterosexual or homosexual couples. The standard for adopting is the best interest of the child and that can be determined only on a case-by-case basis.

Still, insofar as the voters of Michigan adopted the ban on same-sex marriage because of their concern about child-rearing by same-sex couples, the trial in this case has clearly shown that the ban is irrational and does not further the state's interest in the protection of children.

The story of April and Jayne DeBoer-Rowse is told in the brief video below.

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