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DETROIT— A federal judge said Wednesday that he’ll hold a February trial before deciding whether to overturn Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said he won’t make a decision until after hearing testimony Feb. 25 on whether there’s a legitimate state interest in banning gay marriage.
“I wish I could give you a definitive ruling. ... There are fact issues that have to be decided,” the judge said.
He surprised lawyers on both sides, as they had agreed to have him decide the issue on arguments and briefs.
More than 100 people were in the courtroom, anticipating a decision in favor of gay marriage, and dozens of others watched a video feed in a nearby room.
Two Detroit-area nurses in a lesbian relationship, Jayne Rowse, 49, and April DeBoer, 42, wanted to adopt each other’s children, not rewrite Michigan law.
But their lawsuit took an extraordinary turn a year ago when Judge Friedman suggested they refile it to challenge the gay marriage ban.
In doing so, they argued the state’s constitutional amendment that declares marriage as between a man and a woman violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. That amendment was approved by 59 percent of Michigan voters in 2004.
“This amendment enshrines discrimination in the state constitution for all time,” the couple’s attorney, Carole Stanyar, told the judge.
Ms. Rowse and Ms. DeBoer, who have lived together for about eight years, sat at the plaintiffs’ table.
An attorney for Michigan said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that states have the authority to regulate marriage and that more than 2.5 million voters supported the amendment.
“The people of the state of Michigan should be allowed to decide Michigan law. This is not the proper forum to decide social issues,” Kristin Heyse, an assistant attorney general, told the judge.