In a historic ruling that provided a huge morale boost to the gay-rights movement, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on Friday struck down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, making it the 18th state in the nation to allow gays and lesbians to join in matrimony, just like their heterosexual counterparts.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed an emergency request for stay of Friedman’s ruling.
In his 31-page ruling, Friedman heavily criticized the state’s position that the will of the voters should have been upheld, noting that just because voters approve something doesn’t make it right, especially when it violates the Constitution.
“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,” Friedman wrote.
“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.’
“Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and 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.”
But Schuette, in his request for a stay, argued that Friedman did not follow the trend sent by other federal judges handling similar cases across the country by not staying his ruling pending the outcome of appeal.
The state has long argued that the will of 2.7 million voters – who in 2004 decided that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman – should not be drowned out by a single judge. The state also argues that it has a “legitimate” interest in preserving the traditional family structure because – it claims – children thrive best when raised by married moms and dads.
Friedman, though, sided with the plaintiffs: two Hazel Park lesbian nurses who argue the state has no “rational basis” for denying them the right to get married and adopt each others’ children.
Friday’s ruling, which came just as courts were closing, at first dashed hopes for the handful of gays who waited hours to be married.
“We’ve been waiting years and years – I thought the judge would’ve thrown us a bone,” said Laura Quinn, 46, of Royal Oak, Mich. Friday was the 18th anniversary of her relationship with her partner, who stayed home while Quinn waited four hours hoping to obtain a marriage license for the couple, she said. When the courthouse closed, she trudged off, vowing to return Monday to try again.
And minutes after she had driven off, the judge’s ruling came down, making it likely that Quinn and many other gays will be lining up Monday morning outside the office of Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown.
The plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, are raising three special needs children together and want to get married. They also want to adopt each others’ children but can’t because Michigan doesn’t allow same-sex couple adoptions. Rowse has two preschool-age boys; DeBoer has a 3-year-old daughter.
The two women filed their lawsuit in January 2012, initially raising only the adoption issue but then challenging the gay marriage prohibition as well.
Unlike most federal judges who have taken up the gay-marriage issue, Friedman opted last fall to hold a trial and give both sides the chance to present their arguments and scientific evidence – the bulk of which focused on same-sex parenting studies and child outcomes of children raised in such family structures.
The state’s experts said their studies show that children of same-sex couples have poorer outcomes than kids raised by married moms and dads.
The plaintiffs’ studies showed no such findings.
“Gays and lesbians and same-sex couples are just as confident, loving, nurturing and capable as their heterosexual counterparts,” attorney Dana Nessell, one of several plaintiffs’ lawyers in the case, argued during the trial. “These loving couples deserve the right to marry and to adopt their children.”
The plaintiffs also argued that child outcomes should have nothing to do with marriage rights, noting that there is no requirement for people to have kids in order to have a marriage license.
The state argues that the voters of Michigan already have spoken on the issue and that their decision should stand.
“The people of the state of Michigan should be allowed to decide Michigan law,” state attorney Kristin Heyse argued in court.
Nessell said the patchwork of legislation involving same-sex marriage has led to chaos, specifically for same-sex couples who are legally recognized in one state, but then move to another and have no legal recognition. It’s especially problematic come tax time, she said, noting same-sex couples, depending on where they live, have to file separately because their marriage isn’t recognized.
“This has to be resolved,” Nessell said. “This can’t continue. You can’t have this patchwork system anymore.”