Hazel Park couple Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer will have to wait until June before U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman will make a decision in their case involving the right of two same-gender, unmarried couples to adopt and marry.
In a hearing held at the Wayne State University Law School Auditorium on March 7, Friedman listened to arguments from both sides, but said his ruling will come shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court hears two cases regarding same-gender marriage.
“The court believes it could craft an opinion on this matter, but no matter what I did would not satisfy either side,” he said. “Hopefully the Supreme Court will give us some direction. I think it’s important for this case to move forward, but the court believes I should have stay a decision until these decisions.”
He said that if he ruled immediately it would only create further legal work for both sides as each would be likely to appeal. He also said that “without these two cases it would not be fair to either side.”
Rowse and DeBoer have lived together for more than six years. They share their home with Nolan, Jacob, and Ryanne. Nolan and Jacob were adopted by Rowse, and Ryanne was adopted by DeBoer. Because Michigan only allows adoption to individuals or to married couples, each child has only one legal parent. The lawsuit against the State of Michigan seeks to allow second-parent adoptions. It also now seeks to over-turn the ban on same-sex marriage, which is the barrier preventing the women from joint-adoption.
Ann Arbor-based attorney Carole Stanyar, representing the couple along with attorney Dana Nessels, argued that denying same-gender couples marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. “The right we’re asserting is not the right to same-sex marriage,” she said. “We are asserting the right to marriage itself.” The case has been likened to civil rights cases of the past, where courts trumped the states in order to allow racial integration and gender equality to advance.
Representing the State, Joseph E. Potchen argued that changes in marriage and adoption should be made in the legislature, not in the courts. He repeatedly claimed that having a man and a woman in a home is the “optimal situation” for childrearing. Potchen also said that while the state did approve both Rowse and DeBoer for foster parenting, adoption is different because foster care situations are intended to be temporary and the state or the biological parent retains guardianship.
In Rowse and DeBoer’s case, however, each was individually approved as an adoptive parent. The state did not address why they saw each woman fit as an individual, but not as a couple.
Currently in same-gender couples, only one parent may adopt, leaving the other parent with no legal tie to their child. This is problematic in many situations, including in custody if something were to happen to the legal parent, the ability to make medical decisions for the child, the ability to provide insurance for the child, and relationships with the child’s school. “Children in same sex households are harmed because they don’t have the protections afforded other families,” Stanyar said. “A mother is a legal stranger to her children.”
DeBoer shed tears as the couple left the courtroom, telling the press that “It’s kind of hard, but like he said, he’s got to have all the facts to make the right decision and we’re confident that the will, and that our children will be ours.”
Friedman gave assurances to the mothers, stating “I promise as soon as these two cases go down I will have a written opinion.”