by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A federal judge in Michigan says a challenge to that state's ban on same-sex marriage will go to trial on February 25 next year.
Equality supporters had hoped that Judge Bernard Friedman would rule in favor of plaintiffs at a summary judgment hearing on October 16, but after hearing initial arguments the judge said he was not convinced by either side.
'I'm in the middle,' Freidman said. 'I have to decide this as a matter of law. I intend to do so.'
Plaintiffs in the case are April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who brought suit challenging Michigan's ban on adoption by same-sex couples in January 2012. Rowse has two preschool-aged boys. DeBoer has a 3-year-old girl.
They later amended that suit to include a challenge to a 2004 constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.
The plaintiffs argue that the ban unlawfully violates their right under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to get married and adopt each others' children. They also argue the state has no rational basis for denying them the right to get married and adopt.
'We don't see ourselves as poster women for anything,' DeBoer said to cheers as they arrived at the October 16 hearing. 'If anything, we're poster women for our children and the rights of children like ours in Michigan.'
In December 2012, DeBoer and Rowse were successful in the adoption portion of their suit, and their attorneys said they hoped for a quick resolution of the marriage issue.
CHANGE IS OVERDUE
'We're cautiously optimistic that a ruling will come,' Dana Nessel, one of four lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said before the hearing. 'When you have waited this long for some semblance of equality, you kind of want it right now. You don't want to wait any longer.'
Nessel said that Michigan's Gay and Lesbian community has suffered from discrimination long enough. A ruling favoring her clients could trigger long-overdue changes for LGBT Michiganders.
'It's very critical that we have a federal court step in and say, no, you cannot use your laws to discriminate against what has historically been an unpopular segment of society,' she said.
Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Carole Stanyar, said the U.S. Supreme Court provided guidance for the court in its rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA. She said the will of the people in voting for the constitutional amendment should not be disregarded, but precedent allows for scrutiny of laws that may be unconstitutional.
'These marriage bans ... are hurting the most vulnerable members of our society,' Stanyar said.
As soon as the court grants her power, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, a defendant in the case, will issue licenses to same-sex couples, her lawyer told the judge.
Angela Minicuci, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Community Health, said officials will revise the marriage license application form in case the ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages is lifted, but have not completed the work.
'We notified local clerks that we will provide guidance on next steps if and when a ruling is available but we do not have a new application prepared at this time,' Minicuci said.
STATE DEFENDS LAW
The state of Michigan has vowed a vigorous fight to uphold the 2004 voter-approved constitutional amendment, arguing it has 'legitimate state interests' in defining marriage.
'Michigan supports natural procreation and recognizes that children benefit from being raised by parents of each sex, who can then serve as role models of the sexes both individually and together in matrimony,' the state argued in court documents.
Kristin Heyse, representing Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, said the state's position is not an attack on the Gay community. Instead, the question is who gets to decide state law - the people or the court, she said.
Gary Glenn, who leads the anti-Gay American Family Association of Michigan, said it would be a mistake for a judge to extinguish a law on the books for nearly a decade.
'One Detroit lawyer in a black robe doesn't have the legitimate constitutional or moral authority to overturn the will of millions of Michigan voters,' Glenn said.
Judge Friedman, who is a senior judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
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