This story has been updated with reaction:
Michigan’s voter-backed ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said in a historic ruling announced Friday afternoon.
That makes Michigan the 18th U.S. state to allow gays and lesbians to marry, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The ruling came after a stormy nine-day trial prompted by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses from Hazel Park who have been together for a decade, but were prohibited from jointly adopting children because they didn’t have a legal marriage. Rowse has two adopted children and DeBoer has one, but without the protection of marriage, they feared that in the event of either of their deaths, the surviving parent might not get custody of all three children.
The ruling also turns back a ban on same-sex adoption.
He dismissed arguments by the state’s lead expert of the effects on children who are married in same-sex households, calling the testimony “entirely unbelievable.”
Instead, Friedman referred to testimony from Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld, an expert witness for the plaintiffs who was denounced by his university on the day he testified."The Court finds Rosenfeld’s testimony to be highly credible and gives it great weight," he wrote. "His research convincingly shows that children of same-sex couples do just as well in school as the children of heterosexual married couples, and that same-sex couples are just as stable as heterosexual couples."
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he planned to ask that the ruling be stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, but there was no immediate indication that Friedman’s ruling allows that.
Schuette argued during the trial and in a statement Friday that overturning the ban would challenge the will of Michigan voters who “recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable” and approved the ban a decade ago, but Friedman disagreed.
"In attempting to define this case as a challenge to 'the will of the people,' state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people," Friedman wrote. "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. ... Regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail."
He acknowledged his ruling won’t be popular among Michigan residents who oppose same-sex marriage marriage on religious grounds.
“Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage,” the judge wrote. “Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”
The bishops Michigan Catholic Conference decried the ruling in a statement, saying it “strikes at the very essence of family, community and human nature.”
“In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults,” the bishops said. “Judge Friedman’s ruling that also finds unconstitutional the state’s adoption law is equally of grave concern.
“As this case will likely move forward through the courts, it is necessary to state clearly that persons with same-sex attraction should not be judged, but rather accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. We rejoice with those brothers and sisters in Christ living with same sex attraction who have found great freedom through Jesus' call to chastity communicated through the Church. We equally encourage those who are struggling in good conscience to live in harmony with the Church’s teaching about sexuality, along with their families, to continue praying and to continue seeking the Lord with the help and guidance of the Church."
ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss called the ruling “a huge victory for the people of Michigan” and said it accelerates the momentum nationwide toward LGBT equality as yet another federal court finds that denying same-sex couples the fairness and dignity of marriage is unconstitutional.”
“Public opinion has changed drastically since 2004 when voters amended the Michigan constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage,” Moss said.” Today, across the political spectrum, Michiganders recognize that allowing same-sex couples to marry is a matter of fundamental freedoms, economic security, and family values.”
“The discriminatory ban is untrue to Michigan’s – and America’s – values, and the judge was right to strike it down," Evan Wolfson, the group’s president said. "It’s time that all committed couples in Michigan be treated with respect and dignity under the law, fully able to share in the freedom to marry and the responsibilities and protections marriage brings.”
During the nine-day trial that ended two weeks ago, state argued the right to adopt a child is not a fundamental constitutional right, but a statutory privilege; that voters had a rational basis for the voter-backed same-sex marriage ban in 2004.
"Plaintiffs failed to prove that there is no rational basis for (1) providing children with 'biologically connected' role models of both genders that are necessary to foster healthy psychological development; (2) forestalling the unintended consequences that would result from the redefinition of marriage; (3) tradition and morality of retaining the definition of marriage and (4) promoting the transition of 'naturally procreative relationships into stable unions,'" state attorneys wrote in a set of proposed conclusions they want the judge reach.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs want the judge to find that the ban continues a history of discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual Michigan residents; that it violates the Constitution; that marriage is civil contract with "political, economic, legal and personal components”; that Michigan’s marriage and adoption laws discriminate are harmful to gay couples; and that the ban doesn’t advance any state interests.
"There is no rational basis for the assertion that children need 'biologically connected' role models of both genders," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote in their proposed conclusions.
"The assertion is a negative assumption about same-sex couples without basis in reality ... Even if, counter-factually, there were a difference in outcomes, the State does not exclude from marriage those who belong to groups that have been documented to be less likely to raise well-adjusted children; for this reason, too, there is no rational basis for the MMA (Michigan Marriage Act)."