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DETROIT – In a landmark decision, a federal judge ruled today that an amendment to the Michigan state constitution that excluded same-sex couples from marriage in the state violates federal law.
"Today's decision is a huge victory for the people of Michigan. The momentum toward LGBT equality is accelerating as yet another federal court finds that denying same-sex couples the fairness and dignity of marriage is unconstitutional," said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. "Public opinion has changed drastically since 2004 when voters amended the Michigan constitution to exclude same-sex couples from marriage. 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 lawsuit was filed by private attorneys on behalf of an Oakland County lesbian couple – April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse – who have been together for more than a decade and are raising three adopted children. The children, however, are only able to have legal parent-child relationships with one of their parents because Michigan courts have interpreted state law to only allow couples to jointly adopt if they are married. The couple wants their children to have the security of having legal ties with both of them.
The decision says that the state has no basis to exclude lesbian and gay couples from marriage, and the ban cannot be used to deny a child of a same-sex couple a legal relationship with both parents. Michigan’s constitutional amendment not only prohibited marriage, but virtually every form of recognition of same-sex relationships, including civil unions, domestic partnerships, and even domestic partner health insurance coverage.
"At its core, this case is about protecting Michigan families," said Jay Kaplan, ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project staff attorney. "We are thrilled that the court found that there is no reason to deny loving, committed same-sex couples and their families the protections that come with marriage. By doing so, the court has underscored the American value that freedom is for everyone."
Judge Bernard Friedman held a two week trial in February that was primarily devoted to expert testimony about the well-being of children raised by same-sex parents. In his opinion, Judge Friedman rejected the state’s claim that only heterosexual couples make optimal parents, writing "there is simply no scientific basis to conclude that children raised in same-sex households fare worse than those raised in heterosexual households."
He also said: "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. 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."
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Michigan, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., National Center For Lesbian Rights, Family Equality Council, Affirmations Community Center, Equality Michigan, Ruth Ellis Center, and KICK filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting the argument that denying Michigan families marriage and the ability to establish legal parent-child ties for both partners through adoption is unconstitutional.
The ACLU Out for Freedom campaign has launched eight federal and state marriage cases – in Florida, Indiana, Oregon, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
To learn more about the case, go to: www.michiganmarriagechallenge.com
To read the organizations’ friend-of-the-court brief, go to: www.aclumich.org/sites/default/files/2013_LGBT_Deboer_Amici.pdf
To read more about the Out For Freedom Campaign, go to: www.aclu.org/out-freedom