Michigan same sex marriage case delayed, frustrating gay activists

DETROIT Wed Oct 16, 2013 7:05pm EDT

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DETROIT (Reuters) - A federal judge in Detroit said on Wednesday that a lawsuit brought by a lesbian couple seeking to marry will go to trial in February, disappointing gay activists who had gathered outside the court in the hope Michigan's ban on same sex nuptials might be immediately overturned.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman had been expected to rule as early as Wednesday during a hearing on the case, brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple from suburban Detroit who want to jointly adopt each other's children.

Dozens of gay marriage supporters rallied outside the federal courthouse before the hearing, waving rainbow flags and holding signs advocating equality. One opponent stood across the street with a sign that declared homosexuality a sin.

Some county clerks in Michigan said they received numerous calls before the hearing asking whether they would perform same sex marriages if the judge ruled.

The questions prompted Michigan's Republican attorney general, Bill Schuette, to take the unusual step of sending a letter to clerks before the court hearing, telling them they could not perform gay marriages until the case was settled on appeal.

A few county clerks in some other states that bar same sex marriage, such as Pennsylvania, have issued marriage licenses in defiance of state bans.

Judge Friedman, who admitted as he arrived in court that he had never been so nervous about a case, said he would not rule on Wednesday and that the case would go to trial beginning on February 25.

"I'm in the middle," Friedman said. "I have to decide this as a matter of law and I intend to do so."

Gay couples in several states have brought legal challenges since the U.S. Supreme Court in June threw out a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied same-sex couples federal benefits available to heterosexual couples.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex nuptials. Michigan is one of 35 states that ban same-sex marriage by statute, through constitutional amendments defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, or both.

The lesbian women who brought the case each have adopted children - DeBoer a girl and Rowse two boys - and the couple has lived together for more than six years. But the state considers them single people living together and will not allow them to adopt each other's children jointly.

A married heterosexual couple would be allowed to jointly adopt each other's children under state law. DeBoer and Rowse have said they would marry if the Michigan ban were lifted.

They first challenged Michigan's adoption law in 2012 in federal court in Detroit and later expanded their lawsuit to contest Michigan's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

"There are no second-class citizens in this country," Carole Stanyar, an attorney for the couple, said in court Wednesday. "This amendment enshrined discrimination in the state constitution."

Assistant Michigan Attorney General Kristin Heyse countered that there is "no fundamental right to same-sex marriage."

In opposing the challenge, the state said in court papers that the people of Michigan should be allowed to decide how they define marriage and who should be allowed to adopt.

After Wednesday's hearing, Dana Nessel, another attorney for the couple, said that they had hoped for a "victory lap" Wednesday but will be prepared in February to bring witnesses before the judge.

"If that's what he needs, if he needs to hear it with his own ears, and he needs to be there listening to the testimony and assessing the credibility of the witnesses, then that's what he's going to get," said Nessel.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, who is named as a defendant in the case but opposes the same-sex marriage ban, said she had received many emails and phone calls asking if the county could issue same sex marriage licenses. The decision to let the case go to trial was a missed opportunity, she said.

"I know there's a lot of disappointed people out there whose rights are being violated," Brown said.

The lesbian couple live in Oakland County.

The case is April DeBoer, et al v. Richard Snyder, et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, No. 12-10285.

(Reporting By Steve Neavling and Joseph Lichterman; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune, Andrew Hay and Steve Orlofsky)

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Comments (12)
MikeySee wrote:
I’m of two minds on this.

1) I think homosexuality is wrong. Not because of my Christian beliefs, but because it seems like crime against nature itself. I am able to put my faith aside for a moment (so to speak) and look at this from a ‘rational’ point of view and it doesn’t make sense. Even if I try to approach it from the direction of evolution, it still doesn’t make sense. According to Evolution Theory, all homosexuals are a weakness on the human race because they do nothing to ensure the survival of the species. Homosexuality, to me, is nothing more than two people giving in to basic carnal instinct or a desire to be different. It might sound tired and stale, but my best friend in high school came out to me. Today he is still one of my best friends and if he ever needed me, I would be there in a heartbeat. Through him I met several other guys who were gay (two of whom realized they were not actually gay and one was confused because he wasn’t having any more luck with guys than he was with girls) and many of them were awesome people… but it has always stuck with me that it is just wrong. My friend knows how I feel about it and he knows that I accept him regardless. But it’s still wrong. And I’m happy to say he respects my stand as much as I respect his ‘choice’.

That said,
2) This is not, despite what some people think, the United Christian States of America. It is the United States of America and it states clearly in the Constitution that religion and government should remain separate. So according to that document, ‘federally speaking’, if homosexuals want to get married they can… by law.

HOWEVER… I was in Michigan when this came up on the ballot, I do not think it should have been on the ballot, but it was. And the people of Michigan voted. The majority of the people of Michigan voted that they did not want Same-Sex Marriages in their state. The majority spoke. More Michiganders DO NOT want it than Michiganders who do want it. So why is a minority group, who is a minority only in their line of thinking and NOT a ‘true minority’ in any way that can be based on biology or ‘provable’ genetic makeup, being allowed to dictate to the majority what is right for their state. This country is big, very big. Quite a few states allow for same-sex marriages. Why can’t homosexuals be happy that they have that and congregate in those states? That sounds bigoted, I know and apologize. But as much as gay people want to feel safe and secure, people who do NOT accept it as an appropriate lifestyle want to feel safe and secure too.

This country is quickly moving in a direction that suggests what the people want doesn’t really matter and the moment anything is labeled a ‘minority’ it suddenly gains power over the majority. I am honestly waiting to see incestuous couples coming forward fighting for their rights to get married. I give it 10-20 years before the ACLU (who I used to respect) side with them and this fight becomes common place. And the scary part is, almost every argument for why incestuous marriages should not be allowed, are the same arguments for why same-sex marriages shouldn’t.

Oct 16, 2013 8:54pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
goblue97 wrote:
I frequently find the idea of separation of church and state to be confused. Separation of church and state is to prevent the state from influencing religion, however the church which is comprised of people should have unlimited freedom in affecting the state because the state is also comprised of the people. If a news article or opinion piece is written proclaiming homosexuality as the new normal, why should that be given more value than what the Bible has to say regarding homosexuality? Would not the readers of the article or opinion piece be influenced by the article in the same way readers of the Bible are influenced? Why should the people who read the Bible be given less freedom to decide what happens in the affairs of the state than people who read blogs or articles or news stories?

Oct 17, 2013 12:39pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
2tellthetruth wrote:
Of COURSE it’s “frustrating”.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Oct 17, 2013 2:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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