Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, approved by voters in a landslide in 2004, was scratched from the state constitution by a US federal judge who said that the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples.
Clerks who handle marriage licenses in Michigan’s 83 counties said they would start granting them to gays and lesbians — three as early as yesterday — although US Attorney General Bill Schuette asked a higher court on Friday to freeze the landmark ruling while an appeal is pursued.
It was not known when a US federal appeals court in Cincinnati would respond.
Schuette said that the US Supreme Court in January stepped in and suspended a similar decision that struck down Utah State’s gay-marriage ban.
“A stay would serve the public interest by preserving the status quo ... while preventing irreparable injury to the state and its citizens,” he said.
The decision by US District Judge Bernard Friedman was historic, following a two-week trial that explored attitudes and research about homosexual marriage and households led by same-sex couples.
The US judge rejected the conclusions of experts hired by the state to defend the rationale behind a constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman.
The attorney-general’s office said that 59 percent of voters approved, and cited tradition and child-rearing as reasons why the 2004 amendment should stand. Friedman, however, was not swayed.
He praised April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two Detroit-area nurses who are raising three children with special needs. They filed a lawsuit in 2012 because they are barred from jointly adopting each other’s children. Joint adoption is reserved for married heterosexual couples in Michigan.
“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,” the judge said.
“It is the court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up ‘to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives,’” Friedman said, quoting the US Supreme Court.
DeBoer and Rowse cried as they read the decision with their lawyer. About an hour later, the couple got a standing ovation and cheers at Affirmations, a community center for gays and lesbians in Ferndale, north of Detroit.
The two women said they will get married when the case ends.
“We don’t ask someone’s orientation on a concealed pistol license, birth certificate, death certificate or voter registration,” said Carmella Sabaugh clerk of Macomb County, near Detroit. “Today’s court ruling means we won’t ask that question for marriage licenses, either.”
Michigan’s Roman Catholic leaders were disappointed by the outcome on Friday.
Seven dioceses contributed more than US$1 million to a campaign committee to help get the 2004 amendment passed.
Led by Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the bishops said gays and lesbians should be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
However, the US judge, they said, is wrongly redefining marriage.
“This decision ... mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults,” seven bishops said.