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A Primer On Michigan’s Same-Sex Marriage Trial

The challenge to Michigan’s bans on same-sex adoption and same-sex marriage will continue today in federal court in Detroit. This week will begin the testimony of Michigan’s witnesses. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman is tasked with determining whether Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban will be the most recent in a number of such bans that have been struck down by federal courts.

The case centers around two women, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse. The women would like to jointly adopt their three children, whom they have each adopted individually, and also legally marry. However, Michigan does not permit same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. Michigan also does not allow same-sex marriage since 59% of voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2004 which restricts marriage to a man and a woman.

Several state bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down recently, including bans in Kentucky, Utah, Ohio, Virginia, and Oklahoma. The impetus for federal courts striking down such bans is the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor in which the Court held that restricting U.S. federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions, by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The legal question in the Michigan case is whether or not Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Typically, this “rational basis review” is very favorable to the government’s position. However, given the string of recent federal court decisions, not even a low standard of review may be enough to uphold the law in this case.

In order to answer the legal question, both sides are making use of experts who will testify, for the most part, as to the effects of same-sex parents on children. Last week, the plaintiffs presented evidence which they claimed supported their notion that same-sex parents are not less beneficial to children than heterosexual parents. This week, state-selected experts will testify as to the opposite.

Even a few years ago, a state attorney general might be expected to appeal any potential loss in a case such as this, but in today’s judicial and political climate there is speculation that the state may not pursue an appeal if it should lose the case at the district court level. On the other hand, in the unexpected event that the ban is upheld, it is likely safe to assume that Deboer and Rowse will almost certainly appeal the decision.

The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich, PLC have extensive experience with constitutional issues and federal court litigation. If you feel that your federally guaranteed rights are being violated, do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to discuss your matter, and, if necessary, defend your rights.

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