Michigan fight for marriage equality continues

Detroit — As of this writing, 17 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government have recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry. These victories came about after decades of hard struggle for basic civil rights by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement. It is a breathtaking achievement, considering that some states’ bigoted “anti-sodomy” laws were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court only a decade ago.

It is hard for any of the other 33 states to defend their bans on same-sex marriage, but Michigan’s Tea Party Attorney General Bill Schuette tried his damnedest to build a case in a two-week trial that concluded March 7. “Moms and dads are different,” pleaded State Attorney Kristin Heyse in the state’s closing arguments. That difference matters, apparently, because of “the procreative function of marriage.”

What century is Heyse living in? Did she sleep through women’s history classes in college? The women’s movement fought exactly those gender stereotypes that typecast them as baby-making machines.

The state further argued that children develop best when raised by a biological mother and father who are married — therefore, the state has a compelling interest in defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Of course, marriage is not denied to heterosexuals who cannot or choose not to produce children — or who might be unfit parents. Nor is marriage a precondition of raising children. Schuette is relying on medieval patriarchal attitudes to justify one of the country’s worst marriage bans, which has even been used to deny domestic partner benefits to state workers.

Attorneys for plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse presented studies that show children’s ability to thrive is not affected by their parents’ sexual identities. The two Detroit-area nurses initially sued for second-parent adoption rights. Although they are raising three children together, they cannot jointly adopt all three. One is the sole legal parent of two and the other is the legal parent of the third, making them “legal strangers” without full parental rights to all three should something happen to one of them.

The case became one of marriage rights after Federal Judge Bernard Friedman determined that, because being married would allow the women to adopt jointly, their case was bound up with the amendment to the Michigan Constitution banning same-sex marriage. After hearing arguments from both sides in October, the judge decided to hold a trial.

Supporters of Rowse and DeBoer demonstrated multiple times outside the courthouse during the trial, packing the courtroom as well as an overflow room.

Marriage equality opponents promised to have 100 pastors demonstrate outside for “traditional marriage,” but that number did not materialize. Even with many from out of state, their numbers were small.

The opponents’ case began to unravel when the judge dismissed the state’s first witness, a graduate student who has written against same-sex marriage, as unqualified. The defense followed with a professor whose own university disclaimed his “research,” an economist at Mormon-based Brigham Young University and an “expert” who stated during cross examination that “unrepentant” gays were damned to hell.

With a ruling expected this month, DeBoer, Rowse and their multitudes of supporters are hoping the judge will reject the “moms and dads are different” defense — which is about as sound as the infamous “Twinkie” defense employed by the murderer of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk. “These two women are heroes,” said attorney Carole Stanyar. “All these families should be embraced. They should be supported. They should be celebrated.” (The Guardian, March 7) n