Michigan Marriage Trial: Now We Wait

By |2014-03-13T09:00:00-04:00March 13th, 2014|Michigan, News|

DETROIT – The trial is now over. After nine days of emotional testimony, U. S. District Judge Bernard Friedman has all the evidence and thousands of exhibits and documents to consider in crafting his decisions in the federal case, DeBoer V. Snyder. Friedman told a packed courtroom Mar. 7 he will issue his decisions within the next two weeks.
“We did have our day in court and we’re thankful for it,” said a weary April DeBoer upon leaving the courthouse for the last time. “We are hopeful that we’ll be on the right side of history, as well as Michigan being on the right side of history.”
“It’s been an intense nine days and I’m glad that we can maybe go back to a normal routine,” said Jayne Rowse, DeBoer’s life partner and co-plaintiff. “We miss the daily life that we’ve come to love, just that every day of being with our kids. And being away this much has definitely taken a toll on us, and a little bit on them.”
Friedman will issue opinions on least three issues. He will rule on the constitutionality of Michigan’s marriage ban, and if he finds the ban unconstitutional he will have to decide whether to issue an immediate stay or not. The stay would preclude couples from marrying in Michigan until the case is appealed to a higher court. His third ruling will determine whether second parent adoption for same-sex couples ought to be allowed in Michigan. Current state law prohibits couples from jointly adopting children unless the couple is legally married.
For the entire first week of the trial, the plaintiffs’ attorneys presented impressive expert witnesses from the fields of sociology, law, child welfare, demography and history, all of whom provided evidence and research that shows children raised by same-sex couples do just as well as children raised by heterosexual couples. Specifically, Prof. Vivek Sankaran, an expert in child welfare and a clinical professor at the University of Michigan Law School, told the court that DeBoer and Rowse have done a “tremendous job” raising their special needs children.
Dr. Gary Gates, a demographer and distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law, testified that as of 2012 there are 287,000 adults identified as LGBT in Michigan, and there are more than 14,000 same-sex couples. Gates also testified that more than half of LGBT Americans already have children or want to have children, and same-sex couples are twice as likely to raise a foster child as opposite-sex couples.
Dr. Nancy Cott, Harvard professor of history and author of numerous books and articles on marriage said, “History shows that changes in marriage to bring it up to date (with changing social, economic and ethical standards) have only made the institution stronger.” Cott is the author of Public Vows, a well researched review of the history of marriage as a public institution, and has served as an expert in the historic marriage equality cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. She reminded the court that marriage between blacks and whites was once illegal and that many states also banned marriages between white citizens and those of Chinese descent.
The state’s attorneys got their chance to present evidence defending the marriage ban, arguing it should remain in place, however they suffered major setbacks with their first two witnesses.
Sherif Girgis, their first witness, is a law student at Yale and a philosopher. Friedman barred him from testifying, saying that Girgis is bound to become an expert in his field someday, “But not quite yet.”
The state’s second witness, sociologist Dr. Mark Regnerus, authored a controversial 2009 study that found children of people who had a same-sex relationship did less well than children raised in a stable home with two heterosexual parents. His research was immediately rebuked by social scientists after it was published in Social Science Review. Within a month of publication the editor said it should never have been published. And the very day Regnerus took the stand his own university, the University of Texas, issued a statement disavowing the study, and his department chair, Dr. Christine Williams, issued a strongly worded statement distancing herself and the department from Regnerus’ research. “Dr. Regnerus’ opinions are his own. They do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families,” Williams statement said.
Plaintiff’s attorney’s also read into the record a statement by one of Regnerus’ consultants on his study, Dr. Paul Amato, a Prof. of Sociology at Penn State University, who discredited the study as well. “Many conservative observers have cited the Regnerus study as if it provided evidence that being raised by gay or lesbian parents is harmful to children. This claim is disingenuous, because the study found no such thing,” he wrote.
Plantiff’s attorney’s were able to raise further doubts about Regnerus and his research by showing it was politically motivated and designed to produce the results needed by same sex marriage opponents. During cross-examination, Regnerus revealed that in 2009, the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative research organization, convened a gathering including Regnerus and Maggie Gallagher, the leader of the National Organization for Marriage, the nation’s leading group opposing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The meeting focused on the need for a study and members of the group developed questions for a survey. The Witherspoon Institute subsequently funded Regnerus’ study with the goal of publishing it before marriage cases reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the final day of the state’s testimony, Dr.Douglas Allen, a Canadian economist took the stand to testify about outcomes for the children of married gay parents. Plaintiffs’ attorney Ken Mogill was questioning him.
“Is it accurate that you believe the consequence of engaging in homosexual acts is a separation from God and eternal damnation?” Mogill asked Allen. “In other words, they’re going to hell?”
“Without repentance, yes,” Allen said.
The court testimony also revealed how closely all of the state’s witnesses had worked together to construct the Regnerus study – looking for an outcome that would certainly try and call into question over 30 years of social science which had clearly reached academic consensus that the health and well being of children of same sex partners was essentially no different then that of heterosexual couples.
Closing arguments were on March 7 and the courtroom was packed, mostly with LGBT people and their families waiting to hear the fate of their legal status. The plaintiffs attorneys went first and passionately reasoned there is no logic in discriminating against LGBT families. They also made the point that the state’s witnesses do not have the respect of their professional peers, and that conservative activists were involved in generating research to simply bolster a political agenda. Many in the courtroom were crying as the attorneys described how important this case is to LGBT families in Michigan.
The state’s closing arguments bounced between saying marriage equality is too new and the consequences of expanding marriage unknown, so the state should not risk including LGBT families. Another point they made is that the LGBT community is too small and all the studies supporting LGBT families too limited to warrant further state action at the present time. Those analyzing the state’s conflicting arguments were left confused as to whether they meant LGBT families were to scary and influential, or too small and inconsequential to deserve equal rights.

Online Resources

Live Blog for Eastern District Court by Ann Arbor Attorney Jane A. Bassett
Jane is a family law specialist who maintained a day by day diary of key findings during the trial

U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan
Court documents in DeBoer v. Snyder

Michigan Marriage Challenge
Facebook Page maintained to educate and directly fundraise for court case for expenses incurred on behalf of DeBoer and Rowse.

Documents State object to:
Michigan Department of Civil RIghts Report on Negative Economic Impact to Allowing Discrimination Against LGBT in Michigan

Same Sex and Different Sex Couples in the American Community Survey: 2005 -2011
By Gary J. Gates

Related Materials Of Interest:
Census & LGBT Demographic Studies

Discredited Regnerus Study

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.