The battle for equality in marriage laws has reached the courtrooms of Michigan. In recent months, courts have overturned bans on same-sex marriages in Texas, Virginia and Utah. Some commentators say Michigan’s ban will likely follow the same fate.
On Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Michigan Eastern District Federal Court began the proceedings of DeBoer v. Snyder. Court documents list April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a couple from Hazel Park, Mich., as well as their three children as plaintiffs. Governor Rick Snyder, State Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard are named as defendants. Schuette is a member of the Albion College Board of Trustees.
In a complaint filed on Sept. 7, 2012, DeBoer and Rowse asserted that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and laws against adoption by same-sex couples amounted to violations of the civil action for deprivation of rights section of the Civil Rights Act, as well as the right of Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
DeBoer and Rowse are seeking to adopt the three children named in the suit, and the state’s ban prevents them from doing so. The state does not allow same-sex marriage or unmarried couples to adopt children.
The eight-day trial saw four days of expert testimony on each side. George Chauncey, professor of history at Yale University and author of history texts concerning the gay rights movement, submitted a report on behalf of the plaintiffs. Chauncey had previously testified in U.S. v. Windsor, the 2013 case which overturned sections of the Defense of Marriage Act related to same-sex discrimination. He detailed the history of anti-gay discrimination in America for the court and urged the overturn of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.
“History has vindicated the judges who had the courage and foresight to uphold the constitutional rights of disfavored minorities in the face of majoritarian hostility,” Chauncey said.
Bill Rose, professor of political science at Albion College, explained the state’s position.
“The state of Michigan is deflecting [the issues of gay marriage and adoption] and focusing on the will of the people,” Rose said. “That is, 59 percent of the voting public in 2004 voted to amend the Michigan constitution to include this draconian ban. Michigan’s argument is that we should not turn this issue over to the courts, but this is an issue in democracy. The demos has spoken, and this represents the will of the people.”
Rose says the state of Michigan claims that the socio-scientific literature is in a confused state over whether there are consequences to allowing same-sex couples to adopt, and therefore the will of the people takes precedence.
Rose thinks this defense will fall flat, however, because marriage should not be subject to the will of the people.
“There are certain things that in this country we have routinely removed from political contestation,” Rose said. “That’s the whole notion of having a constitutionally protected right. Certain areas of life are pulled out of politics so that they are not subject to the whims of the people. [Gay marriage] should be one of those issues.”
For an Albion College student’s perspective, read The Pleiad‘s opinion on the case.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons