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Michigan Federal Judge Is 6th To Strike Down Prohibition On Same-Sex Marriage In Wake Of United States v. Windsor

On March 21, Senior U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan struck down MCLS Const. Art. I, § 25, an amendment to the Michigan Constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage, Deboer v. Snyder, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37274 ( E.D. Mich. Mar. 21, 2014). Following a bench trial, Judge Friedman found that the amendment discriminated impermissibly against same-sex couples and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.   

The suit had been brought by April Deboer and Jayne Rowse, an unmarried same-sex couple who had separately adopted a total of three children as single persons. Plaintiffs initially requested that the court enjoin the enforcement of MCLS § 710.24 restricting adoptions to single persons or married couples. Subsequently, however, they amended the complaint to add a claim challenging the validity of the amendment. 

During trial, plaintiffs presented expert testimony from psychologist David M. Brodzinsky, Ph.D., sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, Ph.D., law professor Vivek Sankaran, Esq., and historian Nancy Cott, Ph.D. Defense experts included sociologist Mark Regnerus, Ph.D.,  family studies professor Loren D. Marks, Ph.D., economist Joseph Price, Ph.D., and economist Douglas W. Allen, Ph.D. Judge Friedman found that the amendment did not survive rational basis review in his Equal Protection Clause analysis. He declined to make a determination under the Due Process Clause as to whether the amendment burdened the exercise of a fundamental right, but he noted that marriage has been recognized as a fundamental right. 

The Deboer decision and similar decisions invalidating state laws banning same-sex marriage come in the wake of United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (U.S. 2013), a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held unconstitutional Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Since the Supreme Court decision, federal courts have invalidated state laws banning same-sex marriages in not only Michigan but Texas, Kentucky, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Utah as well.

On Feb. 26, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando L. Garcia of the Western District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction and found that that Article I, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution and corresponding provisions of the Texas Family Code were unconstitutional. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 1324. On Feb. 12, Judge John G. Heyburn of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky concluded that Kentucky's denial of recognition for valid same-sex marriages violated the United States Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 738. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia enjoined the Commonwealth of Virginia from enforcing sections of the Virginia Code and Constitution to the extent that the laws prohibited a person from marrying another person of the same gender on Feb. 14. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 932. On Jan. 14, District Judge Terence C. Kern of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma declared that a part of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment that precluded same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 2014 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 934. Judge Robert J. Shelby of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah struck down Utah statutes and a constitutional provision that prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriage on Dec. 20, 2013. 2013 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 14658.

After Judge Friedman issued his opinion in the Deboer case on Friday, the State of Michigan appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and an order granting a stay was issued.  According to an Associated Press article printed on Tuesday March 25, 2014, hundreds of same-sex couples in four Michigan counties were married the day after Judge Friedman’s decision was entered and before the stay was put into place. The article stated that the Sixth Circuit granted the state's request to suspend the district court’s decision, quoting Judges Karen Caldwell and John Rogers, who said a stay is appropriate, especially because the Supreme Court ordered a similar stay in the Utah case, supra.

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