On February 25, a federal judge set aside two weeks to consider the overturning of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage after a lesbian couple argued that it was a violation of their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Associated Press reported that lawyers delivered opening statements in a trial overseen by Judge Bernard Friedman, challenging a 2004 constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage as a union soley between a man and a woman.
In 2012, nurses Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer of Hazel Park sued to overturn a Michigan law that bars them from adopting one another other’s children. After being advised by the judge to add a challenge to the same-sex marriage ban to their lawsuit, the case took on even more significance.
“Nothing says family like a marriage license,” DeBoer told reporters before she and Rowse, her partner of eight years, walked into the Detroit federal courthouse, hand-in-hand.
The couple argued that Michigan’s constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2004, violates the Equal Protection Clause in the US constitution, which forbids states from treating people differently under the law. The current legal climate is in their favor, as in recent weeks marriage equality bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia have been overturned without trials. At least seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow marriage by same-sex couples.
“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,” attorneys for the couple said in a court filing last fall.
The ban against same-sex marriage was approved by 59 percent of voters in 2004. In her opening remarks, state Assistant Attorney General Kristin Heyse stressed that the burden is on DeBoer and Rowse to show the amendment is “irrational” under all possible reasons.
“That’s a very high bar, your honor, and one plaintiffs can’t meet,” Heyse said.
She noted that the amendment was at the time widely embraced by voters—“not a whim of the few”—and stressed the importance of granting the requests and wishes of the people in this issue.
The state attorney general’s office, however, is defending the election result: “There is no dispute that there is a fundamental right to marry. But there is no fundamental right to marry a person of the same sex,” it said in a statement.
This is the first US trial on a marriage equality ban since 2010, when a trial was held in California, according to Dana Nessel, the co-counsel for DeBoer and Rowse.
“There are no second-class citizens in this country,” said the couple’s attorney, Carole Stanyar, during the trial.