DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A U.S. District Judge in Detroit has decided to postpone his ruling in a potentially groundbreaking challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Judge Bernard Friedman said two similar cases are moving through the United States Supreme Court and he wants to wait until that court gives an opinion on whether any ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. Arguments in one of those cases are set to begin later this month, with a ruling coming as soon as June.
The case centers around two Detroit-area nurses who filed a lawsuit to try to overturn restrictions on adoption by same-sex partners. They say a 2004 constitutional amendment that stipulates Michigan only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton was at Wayne State University’s law school as both sides gave their oral arguments Thursday.
“The state pretty much argued that it was not saying that same-sex couples can’t raise children, that in fact the plaintiffs in this case do a fantastic job, but sexual orientation has never been a protected class and urged the court to go with what the voters decided back in 2004 that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Langton.
The plaintiffs argued back that the state is relying on a case from 1971 and times have changed.
“They said centuries ago, people believed that the world was flat, which it’s obviously not. And even the judge asked the state ‘Haven’t the times changed?’ But nonetheless, the judge did not decide to rule,” said Langton.
If Friedman would have concluded the amendment violates the U.S. Constitution, gay-marriage supporters say same-sex couples would immediately be allowed to wed and adopt children.
“A lot of people were anticipating that the judge would trump the Supreme Court by at least giving an opinion, as some other judges have done across the country on the issue of same-sex marriage. But this judge said no, in fact noting that there will be oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue at the end of this month, on March 26,” said Langton.
The women who filed the lawsuit, 48-year-old Jayne Rowse and her partner 41-year-old April DeBoer, were visibly upset and disappointed following the hearing.
“We are hopeful and confident that they will wait until June and see what the Supreme Court has to say and that we will finally the rights to our children,” said DeBoer.
Attorneys for the couple felt the cases Friedman wants to wait for are too narrow to fit the issues at hand in this case as it relates to adoption. Friedman contended, however, that he did not want to see another layer of litigation, acknowledging that there would have been an appeal no matter how he ruled if he made his decision Thursday.
Rowse and DeBoer of Hazel Park have lived together for more than six years. They share their home with Nolan, 4, and Jacob, 3, and a girl, Ryanne, 3, children who couldn’t be raised by their birth parents.
Rowse adopted the boys, and DeBoer adopted Ryanne. But under Michigan law, they can’t adopt each other’s kids because they aren’t married. If either woman died, the other would not be instantly recognized as the legal parent of the remaining children, even if instructions were spelled out in a will.
At least 16 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to jointly adopt children, according to Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.
During a court hearing in August, the judge suddenly changed the case — and raised the stakes — when he said Rowse and DeBoer should consider challenging Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, which was approved by 58 percent of voters nearly a decade ago. So they expanded their lawsuit to claim the prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it treats same-sex couples differently than heterosexual married couples.
The Michigan case hasn’t received much attention. The American Civil Liberties Union got the judge’s approval to file a brief in support of Rowse and DeBoer, but it mostly focuses on the adoption issue. There were no requests by groups urging the judge to leave the gay marriage ban alone.
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