DETROIT — A major legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage is attracting interest from conservative Christians, the Roman Catholic Church, law professors, and civil libertarians as the state defends a 2004 constitutional amendment that defines marriage only as between a man and a woman.
Arguments scheduled for this week have been pushed to Oct. 16 in Detroit federal court. The case hits the docket four months after the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal government can’t deny benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
The challenge to Michigan’s ban was in play before the Supreme Court spoke, but attorneys for a pair of Detroit-area nurses believe the decision helps their case.
“If marriage is a fundamental right, then logic and emerging Supreme Court precedent dictate that the legitimacy of two adults’ love for one another is the same in the eyes of the law regardless of sexual orientation,” lawyers Carole Stanyar and Dana Nessel said in a recent filing.
They represent April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who live with three adopted children in Hazel Park.
They sued in 2012 because Michigan law bars them from jointly adopting each other’s kids. At the suggestion of the judge, the case has become even more significant and includes a challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.
The state attorney general’s office, defending voters’ endorsement of the gay-marriage ban, said the Supreme Court has recognized that states have a right to define marriage.
“Their attempt to circumvent the legislative process and disrupt the will of the people of the state of Michigan must be rejected,” the state said of DeBoer and Rowse.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has allowed other parties to file arguments in the case. The Michigan Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church, said “every sign of unjust discrimination” must be avoided yet marriage should remain between a man and a woman.
“That the people of the state of Michigan have sought to preserve and protect the relationship most conducive to the preservation and proliferation of the human race through the Marriage Amendment is certainly a legitimate government interest,” the Catholic Conference said.
The Lansing-based Michigan Family Forum said same-sex couples can be successful parents but “that is not the question.”
“The social science evidence, especially evidence founded on conclusions from population-based samples, suggests that there are unique advantages to a parenting structure consisting of both a mother and a father, political interests to the contrary notwithstanding,” the group said.
On the other side, eight professors at Thomas M. Cooley Law School said Michigan’s gay marriage ban clearly is unconstitutional.
In addition, nearly 20 constitutional law scholars from across the country said the judge should hold Michigan to “heightened scrutiny,” meaning the state would need to overcome a high legal threshold to justify a ban on gay marriage.
“Ours is not a constitution of caste or class. It is not a constitution that allows a political majority to subordinate a defenseless minority just because it can,” the Cooley professors said. “It is not a constitution that turns its back on any class, much less a class that is morally blameless.”
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