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Mich. defense of gay marriage ban off to rocky start as judge bars first witness

Monday, March 3, 2014
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David Coates, Dtroit News (APSupporters and opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrate outside the federal courthouse in Detroit on Monday, March 3, 2014.

David Coates, Detroit News (AP)
Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrate outside the federal courthouse in Detroit on Monday, March 3, 2014.

DETROIT — A judge barred an Ivy League law student Monday from testifying at Michigan’s same-sex marriage trial, saying he might become an expert witness someday but his opinions wouldn’t help sway this case.

It was a blow for the Michigan attorney general’s office, which had offered Sherif Girgis as its first witness in defense of a 2004 constitutional amendment that bars same-sex marriage.

Girgis has written and talked about a historical defense of marriage between a man and a woman going back to ancient philosophers such as Cicero and Plato. He’s pursuing a law degree at Yale University and a doctorate in philosophy in Princeton University.

“The fact is you’re still a student. Someone else is still grading your papers,” said attorney Ken Mogill, co-counsel for two Detroit-area nurses challenging the gay-marriage ban.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said Girgis is smart, articulate and bound to become an expert in his field.

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“But not quite yet,” Friedman said.

The trial entered its second week Monday. Earlier in the day, Lisa Brown, a Democrat and the elected clerk of Oakland County, was asked about an email sent last October from the attorney general’s office during a hearing in the case.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, had warned counties not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even if the judge threw out the ban at that time. The state said other legal moves would be in the works.

Friedman, however, took no action and instead ordered a trial, which began Feb. 25.

“My job is to follow what the judge says, not what the attorney general says,” said Brown, who supports gay marriage.

Follow the case: DeBoer v. Snyder.

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