Judge lifts Michigan's ban on gay marriage

Judge lifts Michigan's ban on gay marriage

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Judge overturns ban on gay marriage in Michigan. (Photo credit WJBK Fox 2 News) Judge overturns ban on gay marriage in Michigan. (Photo credit WJBK Fox 2 News)

DETROIT (WJBK) - Michigan's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge said Friday, striking down a law that was widely embraced by voters a decade ago in the latest in a series of similar decisions across the country.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman issued a 31-page decision Friday after two Hazel Park nurses challenged the state's constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004. A trial in the case concluded March 7.

PLAY ONE OF THREE VIDEOS IN THE PLAYER TO SEE REACTIONS FROM THE TWO PEOPLE, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, AT THE CENTER OF THE LAWSUIT THAT LED TO TODAY'S RULING. FOX 2'S AMY LANGE WAS AT THE COUPLE'S HOME WHEN THE NEWS BROKE.

The decision was released shortly after 5 p.m., when most county clerk offices in Michigan were closed. Clerks issue marriage licenses. Judge Friedman did not suspend his decision while the Michigan attorney general pursues an appeal. That means clerks could start issuing licenses Monday unless a higher court intervenes.

The judge noted that supporters of same-sex marriage believe the Michigan ban was at least partly the result of animosity toward gays and lesbians.
 
"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."

April DeBoer, 42, and Jayne Rowse, 49, said the amendment violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They are living as a couple and raising three special needs children they adopted as individuals.

During the 9-day trial, state attorneys said it would be a mistake to overturn the will of the people. Michigan Assistant Attorney General Kristin Heyse said it wasn't a "whim of the few." The ban was approved by 59 percent of the voters.  Those who want to the ban lifted cite the Equal Protection Clause, which says all people need to be treated equally and argue that the ban violates14th Amendment's Due Process clause, which says the government will not deny people life, liberty or property without due process.

If Friedman's ruling is upheld, Michigan becomes the 18th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

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.
 
Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, asked a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman's decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.

Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said she's thrilled.  She offered the following statement:
"I am thrilled with Judge Friedman's ruling today granting same-sex couples equal protection of the law," Brown said. "It's a relief that my office is no longer forced to discriminate against same-sex couples. During the course of the trial I've heard from many residents who want to be first in line to get a marriage license. I couldn't be happier to say that their wait is finally over. It's taken too long to get to this point, but we are finally here."

PLAY THE SECOND VIDEO IN THE PLAYER TO SEE ATTORNEY Dana Nessel read portions of the decision on at the kitchen table in the DeBoer-Rowse home as Amy Lange and her crew file a live report for Fox 2 News at 5pm.
 
"It's unbelievable," DeBoer said. "We got our day in court. We won."
 

 About an hour later, the couple got a standing ovation and cheers at Affirmations, a community center for gays and lesbians in Ferndale, north of Detroit. DeBoer said she and Rowse won't get married until the case comes to a close in the months -- possibly years -- ahead.
 
"State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people," the judge said. "No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples."
 
 Experts testifying for Rowse and DeBoer said there were no differences between the children of same-sex couples and those raised by a man and woman. And the University of Texas took the extraordinary step of disavowing the testimony of sociology professor Mark Regnerus, who was a witness for Michigan.
 
Dave Murray, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, said the state has an "obligation" to defend what voters chose in 2004.
 
If a "court concludes the provision of the Michigan Constitution cannot be enforced, he'd respect those decisions and follow the rule of law," Murray said of Snyder.
 
Michigan's Roman Catholic leaders, led by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, said gays and lesbians should be "accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity." But the judge, they said, is wrongly redefining marriage.
 
"This decision ...  mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults," seven bishops said.

AP reporters Ed White, Jeff Karoub and Corey Williams in Detroit, Mike Householder in Ferndale, Mich., David Eggert in Lansing, Mich., and Emma Fidel in Mason, Mich., contributed to this report.

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