A federal judge today struck down Michigan’s gay marriage ban, a law voters embraced widely just a decade ago.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Attorneys for the state said during the trial that the plaintiffs, a Detroit-area lesbian couple, were great parents. Nevertheless, the state urged the judge to respect the results of a 2004 election in which 59 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment that said marriage in Michigan can only be between a man and a woman.
“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage,” Friedman said. “Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”
The decision was filed shortly after 5 p.m. in Detroit, when most county clerk offices were closed. Clerks issue marriage licenses in Michigan.
Attorney General Bill Schuette said he would immediately ask a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman’s decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor last summer started the avalanche of rulings against states’ traditional marriage laws. In that case, the high court said the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in states that allow them. Denying gay couples the right to marry violated the constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law, the court ruled.
Though the Windsor case initially appeared to apply just to federal matters, the wording of the decision created a trump card that can be played again and again against state laws protecting traditional marriage.
The Michigan plaintiffs, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, want to get married, but the original purpose of their 2012 lawsuit was to overturn Michigan’s ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples. They are raising three adopted children with special needs at their Hazel Park home. They can’t jointly adopt each other’s children because joint adoption in the state is tied exclusively to marriage.