The case of DeBoer v. Snyder has been set for trial in October in the Federal District Court of Eastern Michigan. Advocates see this as the most likely route to legalizing gay marriage in Michigan. But Governor Snyder and Attorney General Schuette have shown they will not go down without a fight.
The public officials recently filed their Answer to the Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. That complaint was filed at Judge Bernard A. Friedman’s suggestion, adding a challenge to the state’s constitutional definition of marriage to the Plaintiffs’ original challenge to the adoption statute.
The Defendants’ Answer tells court watchers 2 things:
1. They want to put the Plaintiffs through a trial
The Answer is filled with claims that the Defendants do not have enough information to admit or deny the Plaintiffs’ complaints. At first glance this could seem to be a weak defense. But what it does is raise questions about what the facts are.
Many commentators believed the trial date to be a formality, and that the case would be decided by motion before that date. However, the Defendants’ Answer could make the Plaintiffs provide exhaustive proof about their way of life and the factual existence of their family.
2. Their legal defenses are nothing new
The Defendants avoided putting too much legal argument into their Answer, but they did raise certain specters of the recent DOMA arguments. In particular, they stated that the Michigan Marriage Amendment and the statute governing adoption are based on the state’s legitimate interest in protecting responsible procreation. The Answer also asserted that the State has an interest in making sure children have role models of both genders.
These are the same arguments raised by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) in the DOMA case. It seems the Governor and the Attorney General intend to rely on the Supreme Court’s opinion that the states have broad authority to regulate marriage, a result that Justice Thomas warned about in his Concurrence.
But while the Defendants can pull support from the recent opinion on the marriage issue, it won’t be much help to them when it comes to adoption. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority relies heavily on the negative affect the federal law was having on the children of gay and lesbian couples and their difficulty understanding the treatment of their families.
Come October, it will be up to Judge Friedman to decide whether LGBT families are improperly discriminated against in the Michigan adoption and marriage laws,
and whether the state has any rational basis for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples seeking to start a family.