Same-sex marriage: Court shoots down yet another state ban

Federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas have ruled that state amendments and laws banning gay marriage violate the US Constitution. Michigan now joins that group.

Paul Sancya/AP
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse with their adopted children Ryanne, Jacob, and Nolan at their home in Hazel Park, Mich. A federal judge Friday struck down Michigan's ban on gay marriage, the latest in a series of decisions overturning similar laws across the U.S. The two nurses who've been partners for eight years claimed the ban violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Continuing a trend that has accelerated over the past year, a federal judge in Michigan has shot down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, opening the way for gay marriages to begin there.

Clerks in at least three of Michigan's 83 counties said they would start granting licenses as early as Saturday as couples lined up. The offices had special hours to accommodate the couples.

Plaintiffs in the case are April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses who live in the Detroit area and have been raising three adopted special needs children since birth.

They had initially challenged the Michigan Adoption Code, which prohibits same-sex couples from jointly adopting the children they raise together. In 2012, they amended their lawsuit to include a challenge to the Michigan Marriage Act, the constitutional amendment passed in 2004 that prohibits same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other form of legal recognition of same-sex couples.

Ruling in the case was US District Judge Bernard Friedman, who had been appointed to the federal bench in 1988 by Ronald Reagan. In his 31-page opinion Friday, Judge Friedman wrote:

"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. 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."

The essence of the state’s case is that children are better off being raised by a heterosexual couple.

“In 2004 the citizens of Michigan recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) said in a statement. “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.”

Mr. Schuette immediately appealed the decision to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati, seeking a stay that would prevent same-sex marriages from being performed in Michigan until the case is ultimately decided.

The issue has accelerated politically and socially since the US Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) last June.

Since then, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas have ruled that state amendments and laws banning gay marriage violate the US Constitution. Michigan now joins that group.

Meanwhile, attorneys general Kamala Harris of California, Mark Herring of Virginia, Lisa Madigan of Illinois, Kathleen Kane of Pennsylvania, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon have refused to defend lawsuits challenging their states’ bans on gay marriage.

“Because the same-sex marriage ban does not further the state’s interest in protecting and promoting families and actually damages that interest, there is no rational justification for maintaining the ban,” Attorney General Rosenblum wrote this week in her brief explaining her decision not to defend Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages. “Not only does the same-sex marriage ban fail to further the state’s interest in promoting stable families, it actually harms children”

Today, same-sex marriages are legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Given public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans – including a large majority of younger voters – now approving gay marriage, it seems likely that the number of such states will increase.
 “Our family is ecstatic!” April DeBoer said following Judge Friedman’s decision in Michigan Friday. She and Ms. Rowse began their effort so that each would be the recognized parent of all three children, which they had had to adopt separately since they weren’t legally married.

“We have waited so long for the day when I could call Jayne my legal wife and when both of us could have peace of mind knowing our three children would finally have two legal parents,” Ms. DeBoer said. “Knowing that day will soon be upon us means the world to us.”

Unlike cases in other states, Judge Friedman did not suspend his decision while the Michigan attorney general pursues an appeal. That means clerks could start issuing licenses Monday unless a higher court intervenes.

In the other four states where federal judges have so ruled (Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas), appeals have put those cases on hold, which means that marriage licenses may not yet be issued to same-sex couples.

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