Citing DOMA, Judge Gives Michigan's Gay Marriage Ban a Trial

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Michigan's voter-approved gay marriage ban will face a trial after a federal judge declined a motion by the state to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges the prohibition. Citing last week's Supreme Court decision that effectively gives federal marriage benefits to same-sex marriages in states where they're already legal, the judge declared that the "plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court and they shall have it.” It looks like this is one of what will likely be many court challenges to state gay marriage bans in the wake of the SCOTUS decisions. 

The lawsuit in question began as an adoption case: the two plaintiffs, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, both nurses, are an unmarried couple living with each other in a house they own together. Each has at least one adopted child, but they're barred by state law from adopting each other's kids (only single people or married couples may adopt in Michigan, meaning that one, but not both, members of an LGBT couple may adopt). And, similar to Supreme Court Justice Kennedy's decision on the DOMA case, the lawsuit alleges that the state law violates the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. Later, the suit was amended to include a challenge to the state's gay marriage ban, too, also citing equal protection and due process. That ban, passed by voters in 2004, amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages and civil unions. 

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Here's more from federal Judge Bernard Friedman's decision:

"Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim has sufficient merit to proceed. The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (U.S. Jun. 26, 2013), has provided the requisite precedential fodder for both parties to this litigation. plaintiffs are prepared to claim Windsor as their own...And why shouldn’t they? The Supreme Court has just invalidated a federal statute on equal protection grounds because it “place[d] same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.” Id. slip op. at 23. Moreover, and of particular importance to this case, the justices expressed concern that the natural consequence of such discriminatory legislation would not only lead to the relegation of same-sex relationships to a form of second-tier status, but impair the rights of “tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” as well. Id. This is exactly the type of harm plaintiffs seek to remedy in this case."

Friedman noted that the state will likely point to the parts of the majority decision that reference states' rights on the matter of same-sex marriage. He'll set a trial date at a July 10 hearing. 

While it looks like Michigan is prepared to defend their same-sex marriage ban, popular opinion on the issue has changed. When the Atlantic Wire ranked the states most likely to approve same-sex marriage, Michigan was the second after New Jersey. That ranking cites a May 2013 poll noting that 57 percent of voters in Michigan back gay marriage. For comparison, the constitutional ban on gay marriage in the state passed with 59 percent of the votes back in 2004.

Read the whole 5-page ruling here: 

Michigan Gay Marriage trial

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.