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September 22, 2014

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Judge strikes down Michigan’s ban on gay marriage

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Paul Sancya / AP

In this March 5, 2013, file photo, April DeBoer, second from left, sits with her adopted daughter Ryanne, 3, left, and Jayne Rowse, fourth from left, and her adopted sons Jacob, 3, middle, and Nolan, 4, right, at their home in Hazel Park, Mich. A federal judge has struck down Michigan’s ban on gay marriage, Friday, March 21, 2014, the latest in a series of decisions overturning similar laws across the U.S. The two nurses who’ve been partners for eight years claimed the ban violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

DETROIT — Michigan's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge said Friday as he struck down a law that was widely embraced by voters a decade ago — the latest in a recent series of decisions overturning similar prohibitions across the country.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after a rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

He noted that supporters of same-sex marriage believe the Michigan ban was at least partly the result of animosity toward gays and lesbians.

"Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage," Friedman said. "Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law."

The decision was filed shortly after 5 p.m. in Detroit, when most county clerk offices were closed. Clerks issue marriage licenses in Michigan.

Attorney General Bill Schuette said he would immediately ask a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman's decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.

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 cases on hold.

Two Detroit-area nurses, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, want to get married, but the original purpose of their 2012 lawsuit was to overturn Michigan's ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples.

They are raising three adopted children with special needs at their Hazel Park home. But they can't jointly adopt each other's kids because joint adoption in the state is tied exclusively to marriage.

Attorney Dana Nessel read portions of the decision on live TV at the kitchen table in the DeBoer-Rowse home.

"It's unbelievable," DeBoer said on television. "We got our day in court. We won."

Rowse, 49, and DeBoer, 42, didn't testify, and the trial had nothing to do with their relationship. In fact, attorneys for the state told the judge that they are great parents.

Instead, the state urged the judge to respect the results of a 2004 election in which 59 percent of voters approved a constitutional amendment that said marriage in Michigan can only be between a man and a woman. Conservative scholars also questioned the impact of same-sex parenting on children.

The judge wasn't moved.

"State defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people," Friedman said. "No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples."

Experts testifying for Rowse and DeBoer said there were no differences between the kids of same-sex couples and the children raised by a man and woman. And the University of Texas took the extraordinary step of disavowing the testimony of sociology professor Mark Regnerus, who was a witness for Michigan.

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