DETROIT – Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, approved by voters in a landslide in 2004, was scratched from the state constitution by a federal judge who said 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 gay and lesbian couples – three as early as today – although Attorney General Bill Schuette asked a higher court Friday to freeze the landmark ruling while an appeal is pursued. It was not known when a federal appeals court in Cincinnati would respond.
Schuette noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in January stepped in and suspended a similar decision that struck down Utah’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 U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman followed a two-week trial that explored attitudes and research about homosexual marriage and households led by same-sex couples. The 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 emphasized the 59 percent approval by voters as well as tradition and child-rearing as reasons why the 2004 amendment should stand. Friedman, however, wasn’t 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’re barred from jointly adopting each other’s children. Joint adoption is reserved for married heterosexual couples in Michigan.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those rulings on hold.
The 31-page decision was filed in Detroit’s federal court shortly after 5 p.m., when most county offices were closed and couldn’t issue licenses. Washtenaw, Oakland and Muskegon counties said they would be open today. Others will follow suit Monday.
“We don’t ask someone’s orientation on a concealed pistol license, birth certificate, death certificate or voter registration,” said Carmella Sabaugh, the clerk in Macomb County, near Detroit. “Today’s court ruling means we won’t ask that question for marriage licenses, either.”