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Judge to rule within 2 weeks on Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage

Friday, March 7, 2014
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Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press   (AP)Supporters and protesters chant before closing arguments in the trial of two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, challenging Michigan's gay-marriage ban at the Theodore Levin Federal Court in Detroit Friday March 7, 2014.

Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press (AP)
Supporters and protesters chant before closing arguments in the trial of two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, challenging Michigan’s gay-marriage ban at the Theodore Levin Federal Court in Detroit Friday March 7, 2014.

Updated: 3:30 p.m. EST

DETROIT — A federal judge said he expects to make a decision within two weeks of Friday’s closing arguments in a challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Attorneys presented scientific data, expert testimony and arguments about constitutional protections before Judge Bernard Friedman in the case that has attracted attention because other states with similar bans have been overturned recently in federal court.

Michigan voters approved the state ban in 2004, but Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who live in a suburb just north of Detroit, have challenged it.

Rowse and DeBoer have been together for eight years and are raising three adopted children who have special needs. Under Michigan’s law, they can’t jointly adopt the kids because they’re not married, which could cause custody and other legal issues if one of the women died.

“We are hopeful we’ll be on the right side of history,” DeBoer told reporters outside the courthouse after Friday’s hearing. “Everyone realizes that marriage means family, and that’s what we want.”

Ken Mogill, one of the attorneys representing the couple, told Friedman during his closing statement that there is no rational basis for Michigan’s stance on gay marriage.

“The right to marry is a fundamental right that should apply regardless of sexual orientation,” Mogill said.

Mogill also said experts who testified against the ban presented convincing arguments that children raised by same-sex couples are not worse off because they don’t have mothers and fathers.

“The witnesses are at the top of their fields,” Mogill said. “They all know what they are talking about and don’t try to put a spin on it.”

But Kristin Heyse, an attorney for the state, said Friday that the case is about studies that show children from opposite-sex marriages fare better in school and other aspects of life.

“It’s about science and data,” Heyse said. “It’s about what’s best for the children of the state of Michigan.”

The state also points out that 2.7 million Michigan voters cast ballots in favor of the law.

“Voters decided a mom and dad are important and not interchangeable,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Joy Yearout said after the hearing. “The strongest argument we have is that (voters) decided it’s best for kids to be raised by a mom and dad.”

The Michigan lawsuit is among the most recent in a series of federal court cases over gay marriage.

A federal judge in Texas issued a preliminary injunction last month against Texas’ ban on gay marriage, then suspended his own ruling to allow the state to appeal. Similar rulings have been handed down in Virginia and Kentucky.

A federal appeals court in Denver is reviewing same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma. And on Friday, four gay couples in Indiana filed a lawsuit seeking to force Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state and issue licenses to same-sex couples.

If Michigan’s ban is shot down in federal court, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown will issue marriage licenses to “qualified” same-sex couples, her lawyer, Michael Pitt, said in his closing argument before Friedman.

“She is not required by law to follow the directives of any state official,” lawyer Michael Pitt said. “Her oath does not permit her to discriminate against any couple trying to wed. She has testified she is ready now to carry out this duty.”

DeBoer and Rowse say they are looking forward to such a day.

“We do definitely plan to be married,” Rowse told reporters. “Our main goal is to protect our family.”

Follow the case: DeBoer v. Snyder.

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