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Federal judge punts on same-sex marriage ban

Same-sex couples hoping to get married in Michigan will officially have to wait until next year.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Same-sex couples hoping to get married in Michigan will officially have to wait until next year.

Same-sex couples hoping to get married in Michigan will officially have to wait until next year.

After hearing arguments on a constitutional challenge to the state's ban on gay marriage, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said he could not give a definitive ruling Wednesday, and would issue a written opinion following a trial, likely in February of 2014.

"I'm in the middle," he said, according to the Detroit Free Press' live blog. "I have to decide this as a matter of law. I intend to do so."

Friedman heard brief arguments from attorneys representing the state, which is defending the ban, and the plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who have been together for well-over a decade.

Together the two women are raising three adopted children. Rowse is legally only parent to their two sons, while DeBoer is parent to their daughter. Michigan law requires that couples be legally married before they can jointly adopt, but because the state bans same-sex marriage, DeBoer and Rowse have no way of adopting each other's children.

In a March interview with MSNBC, DeBoer and Rowse said they never intended to challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriage, which 59% of voters approved in 2004. They simply sought to obtain second-parent adoption, a process that allows unmarried partners to adopt each other's children, in lieu of extending joint adoption rights.

Their attorney, Dana Nessel, said she was "shocked" when Friedman, a Reagan appointee, essentially dared them in 2012 to wage a broader battle.

"He said I think this issue is not about the adoption code; I think it's about marriage," Nessel told MSNBC in March. "What you need to do is challenge the marriage amendment."

Nessel's co-counsel, Carole Stanyar, did the talking at Wednesday's hearing. She said that the U.S. Supreme Court provided guidance for this case, referring to a June ruling in which Justice Kennedy--writing for the majority--concluded that the federal ban on same-sex marriage, called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA,) deprived gay couples of equal liberty and basic dignity without sufficient justification.

"We at times, have lost our footing, and sometimes our humanity," said Stanyar Wednesday. "We rely on federal courts sometimes to tell us there are no second-class citizens in our country."

Speaking for Attorney General Bill Schuette, Kristin Heyse said the issue was not whether gay couples made good parents, but whether the people of Michigan should get to decide their own laws.

"What we're asking for today is that the people should be allowed to decide state law--this court is not the proper venue," said Heyse. "The state has a sovereign authority to govern domestic relations."

Judging by the live blog, Friedman came off as somewhat antagonistic and skeptical of Heyse's arguments. When she cited her cases, Friedman interjected with: "Forty-year-old cases?" And when she argued that Michigan has never recognized same-sex marriage and that the state could not, Friedman asked: "Just because it's never been done before?"

Polling shows a mixed picture of where Michigan voters stand on marriage equality, though almost all surveys show growing support. A July poll commissioned by a GOP-led PR firm found 51% opposed putting marriage equality back on the ballot, but another recent survey conducted by Glengariff Group Inc. found 56% supported same-sex marriage.

Michigan is one of 35 states that limits marriage to one man and one woman.