After months of preparation, DeBoer v. Snyder, the federal challenge to Michigan’s ban on same sex marriage and adoption is going to trial. Federal District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman has set aside 8 full days for testimony and arguments starting Tuesday, February 25, 2014. What can we expect over the next two weeks? And how will the court’s decision affect the rights of LGBT citizens of Michigan?
Advocates on both sides of the marriage equality debate have a good idea what to expect from the DeBoer trial. In October, the two sides had it out in a full-day argument asking the judge to decide in their favor without a trial. This is not uncommon. In fact, of the 20 or more gay marriage cases that have been decided so far, only the California Proposition 8 and the DOMA cases actually had testimony. But Judge Friedman denied those motions, finding there was a factual question whether there was a legitimate government interest backing the ban, and set the matter for trial.
The testimony itself will be primarily a battle of experts, many of whom have testified in gay rights cases before. Crystal Proxmire of Between the Lines says,
“Although most research shows that there are no significant differences in children raised in homes with two parents of opposite gender parents and those with same gender parents, the State is relying on four experts who have made names for themselves by claiming otherwise.”
The family has 10 experts on their roster, prepared to testify to the psychological, economic, and systemic harm done by Michigan’s bans on same-sex marriage and adoption. They will also testify about the history of discrimination against gays and lesbians, and about the effect of same-sex parenting on children. In addition to the experts, the family also has the support of two witnesses who were themselves raised by same-sex parents.
The trial will be split into two parts. First, both sides will present evidence about the harm caused by the bans and the government interest supporting them. Then, if necessary, the court will hear evidence regarding the appropriate level of judicial scrutiny based on the history of discrimination against LGBT people.
No one expects a decision at the end of the 8 days. Instead, Judge Friedman will take his time to craft a written opinion, which will be issued later. Between the trial testimony and the written opinion, the judge is giving a strong basis for his ruling to be upheld on appeal.
And there will definitely be an appeal. Given recent events in Utah, Judge Friedman’s ruling will be stayed while the losing side appeals to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. With 18 decisions in favor of marriage equality nationwide since DOMA, it won’t be long before the Supreme Court once again rules on marriage equality. Until then, the rights of gay couples in Michigan will remain in flux.
If you know a gay or lesbian couple trying to protect their rights, have them contact Attorney Lisa J. Schmidt for a consultation.