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Judge Rules Ban Unconstitutional; Wedding Bells Can Ring for Gay Michigan Couples: UPDATED

A historic ruling sets aside a 2004 voter-backed ban on same-sex marriage, making Michigan the 18th state in the country to allow gays to marriage.

Gay couples can now marry in Michigan after a federal judge struck down a voter-backed ban on same-sex marriage.
Gay couples can now marry in Michigan after a federal judge struck down a voter-backed ban on same-sex marriage.

This story has been updated with reaction:

Michigan’s voter-backed ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said in a historic ruling announced Friday afternoon.

That makes Michigan the 18th U.S. state to allow gays and lesbians to marry, the Detroit Free Press reports.

The ruling came after a stormy nine-day trial prompted  by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses from Hazel Park who have been together for a decade, but were prohibited from jointly adopting children because they didn’t have a legal marriage. Rowse has two adopted children and DeBoer has one, but without the protection of marriage, they feared that in the event of either of their deaths, the surviving parent might not get custody of all three children.

In his ruling, the judge said the ban violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and doesn’t advance any legitimate state interest, NRP said.

The ruling also turns back a ban on same-sex adoption.

He dismissed arguments by the state’s lead expert of the effects on children who are married in same-sex households, calling the testimony “entirely unbelievable.”

Instead, Friedman referred to testimony from Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, an expert witness for the plaintiffs who was denounced by his university on the day he testified.

"The Court finds Rosenfeld’s testimony to be highly credible and gives it great weight," he wrote. "His research convincingly shows that children of same-sex couples do just as well in school as the children of heterosexual married couples, and that same-sex couples are just as stable as heterosexual couples."

>>> Read the ruling (attached) on Patch, or here.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he planned to ask that the ruling be stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, but there was no immediate indication that Friedman’s ruling allows that.

Schuette argued during the trial and in a statement Friday that overturning the ban would challenge the will of Michigan voters who “recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable” and approved the ban a decade ago, but Friedman disagreed.

"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 wrote. "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. ... Regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail."

He acknowledged his ruling won’t be popular among Michigan residents who oppose same-sex marriage marriage on religious grounds.

“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage,” the judge wrote. “Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

The bishops Michigan Catholic Conference decried the ruling in a statement, saying it “strikes at the very essence of family, community and human nature.”

“In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults,” the bishops said. “Judge Friedman’s ruling that also finds unconstitutional the state’s adoption law is equally of grave concern.

“As this case will likely move forward through the courts, it is necessary to state clearly that persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. We rejoice with those brothers and sisters in Christ living with same sex attraction who have found great freedom through Jesus' call to chastity communicated through the Church. We equally encourage those who are struggling in good conscience to live in harmony with the Church’s teaching about sexuality, along with their families, to continue praying and to continue seeking the Lord with the help and guidance of the Church."

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss called the ruling “a huge victory for the people of Michigan” and said it accelerates the momentum nationwide toward LGBT equality as yet another federal court finds that denying same-sex couples the fairness and dignity of marriage is unconstitutional.”

“Public opinion has changed drastically since 2004 when voters amended the Michigan constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage,” Moss said.” Today, across the political spectrum, Michiganders recognize that allowing same-sex couples to marry is a matter of fundamental freedoms, economic security, and family values.”

The Freedom to Marry equality group hailed the ruling as step forward for all committed couples in Michigan.

“The discriminatory ban is untrue to Michigan’s – and America’s – values, and the judge was right to strike it down," Evan Wolfson, the group’s president said. "It’s time that all committed couples in Michigan be treated with respect and dignity under the law, fully able to share in the freedom to marry and the responsibilities and protections marriage brings.”

During the nine-day trial that ended two weeks ago, state argued the right to adopt a child is not a fundamental constitutional right, but a statutory privilege; that voters had a rational basis for the voter-backed same-sex marriage ban in 2004.

"Plaintiffs failed to prove that there is no rational basis for (1) providing children with 'biologically connected' role models of both genders that are necessary to foster healthy psychological development; (2) forestalling the unintended consequences that would result from the redefinition of marriage; (3) tradition and morality of retaining the definition of marriage and (4) promoting the transition of 'naturally procreative relationships into stable unions,'" state attorneys wrote in a set of proposed conclusions they want the judge reach.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs want the judge to find that the ban continues a history of discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual Michigan residents; that it violates the Constitution; that marriage is  civil contract with "political, economic, legal and personal components”; that Michigan’s marriage and adoption laws discriminate are harmful to gay couples; and that the ban doesn’t advance any state interests.

"There is no rational basis for the assertion that children need 'biologically connected' role models of both genders," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote in their proposed conclusions.

"The assertion is a negative assumption about same-sex couples without basis in reality ... Even if, counter-factually, there were a difference in outcomes, the State does not exclude from marriage those who belong to groups that have been documented to be less likely to raise well-adjusted children; for this reason, too, there is no rational basis for the MMA (Michigan Marriage Act)."

Lee Jacobsen March 26, 2014 at 11:07 PM
Dave, unless I am misinformed, most folk need to get a license from the govt to get hitched. Your statement, " I suppose we could invalidate everyone's marriage in the country and say everyone now has a civil union", does not compute with respect to invalidating everyone's marriage. Everyone, (except common law) does have a civil union. Marriage, at least the term, as you have deftly given a historical perspective, has evolved to the point where folks with a religious belief have a special feeling for the term, a need to protect the word, and don't give a hoot about all the civil benefits it provides. Same sex folk should swallow their pride and accept the civil union terminology. Laws should be passed to make that the terminology, and drop the word marriage to the realm of solemnization in religious circles. Politics is compromise, and this is just another step in the evolution of the term. We could be in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Yemen, Nigeria, Tenn, Ariz, Texas, where same sex marriage is and could be a death sentence, legal or just beneath the surface, more out of ignorance than anything else. Pacifying folk with a new word for marriage, (civil union) in the law to gain civil benefits granted to both terms seems a small thing to do to gain acceptance among the masses to allow same sex folk to have the civil benefits that they desire from govt.
Dave W March 27, 2014 at 12:49 AM
Lee, the point of the historical perspective was to show that marriage has been seen through history as a contract, not a religious sacrament, which is why it does not compute that religious folks need to "protect the word". I understand that "marriage" is used to describe the religious ceremony/sacrament, but the social institution (as a social contract) came first. I recently attended a heterosexual wedding where God's name was never mentioned, there was no priest or minister (only an officiator), and no prayers were said. The bride and groom are atheists, so there was no religion present. It was a beautiful celebration with 100+ people where the couple declared their love, exchanged their vows, and signed their license. I consider this a marriage, even though I don't think my church does. Should this couple not be able to say they are married, but rather civil-unioned? In order to be married, which church's blessing do they require? Religious folks should swallow their pride and accept that marriage is a social institution that exists outside of their sacraments. When I said "I suppose we could invalidate everyone's marriage in the country and say everyone now has a civil union", that would be the effect of your compromise; since you say every couple has a civil union anyways and that "Laws should be passed to make that the terminology, and drop the word marriage to the realm of solemnization in religious circles". All people who were civilly married in the eyes of the state would now be civil-unioned, and all rights would be extended under those terms, while only those undergoing their religious sacraments could be "married". In order to have your legal rights protected, though, you would need to be sure to have a civil union, which the state would allow your religious leader to officiate.
Lee Jacobsen March 27, 2014 at 02:44 AM
Dave, couples can use any terminology they want to express their union, be it civil union or marriage in a church. Both have equal standing. I agree with you that the ceremony can be extremely unique, and still, it is a marriage, and civil union, you can call it both or whatever you want. The State has it's fee for the license so it does not care. A good friend's daughter had an incredible wedding last year, inside a church, where the couple composed all of the music along Star War themes. While she walked down the aisle, Storm troopers stormed in among the many guests, and whisked her away. The groom, waiting at the altar, whipped out his light saber, and a 5 minute battle ensued, with the groom rescuing his beloved. The wedding concluded without further incident. I might mention that the bride, groom, family and many friends were all active in plays, and stage productions, thus the drama. My own wedding was probably unusual as well, as it took place on the ice, with 125 guests on skates, including the minister, the rest in the stands. We wrote the vows and arranged the music, which is pretty common now. Later that evening , it was food , spirits, and medieval dancing with another 300 folk with a traditional string band and caller at Lovett Hall. I would call the ceremony more fun than 'religious', but that is just fine. As as long as the two folk becoming one are sincere in their vows to each other, that is what counts. The rest is window dressing.
Dave W March 27, 2014 at 09:17 AM
I completely agree with your 3/27/14 02:44 post Lee, but again, we have never referred to the civil institution of marriage as civil unions. (Both weddings sound like a blast.) Gay folk can call their union marriage and you can call it a civil union, but the state/law should refer to everyone's union the same: it's either marriage or a civil union.

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