Michigan Same-Sex Marriage Ban Faces Legal Challenge

Mar 6, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear two cases dealing with gay marriage.

At the same time in Michigan, a federal judge could rule as soon as Thursday on a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions. In that case, a lesbian couple sued not because they want to be married, but because they want to be parents.

Jane Rouse and Dana DeBoer have been together 13 years. For all practical purposes, they consider themselves married to each other. Jane Rouse says they would like to make it official, with a wedding in one of the nine states that allows same-sex marriages.

“We were looking at going to Washington or New York to get married,” Rouse says with her children playing nearby. Planning that trip with three young kids is a challenge.

Losing Rights
Jacob and Ryanne are both three years old. Nolan is four. Jacob came into the household as a foster child. As foster parents, Rouse and DeBoer shared  legal guardianship of Jacob. When they decided to adopt the boy, they faced the same decision they’d faced with the two other children – which of them would be the legal parent. They chose Jane Rouse, who is also Nolan’s legal mother.

That meant Dana DeBoer actually lost legal rights she had as a foster parent.

“I lose the right to make medical decisions for my boys,” she says. “I can’t enroll my boys in school. I am on an emergency card at school. I am listed as an emergency contact person. I am not a parent. I am nothing.”

 If Jane Rouse were to die, Dana DeBoer would have to go to court to try to adopt the two boys.

Suing To Adopt
So Rouse and DeBoer sued Michigan in federal court. Current law allows male-female married couples to adopt children. It allows individuals to adopt children. But it specifically bans same-sex couples from adopting kids.

Rouse, DeBoer, and their lawyers say they were shocked when the federal judge in their case invited them to expand their lawsuit to challenge the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“He did not order us to amend the complaint, but he certainly urged us to do so,” says Dana Nessell, one of the attorneys working for Rouse and DeBoer. “It hurts so many families in Michigan and so many people are hurt by these laws and we felt compelled to do something about and we did. So here we are now.”

Defending Restrictive State Laws
Michigan has some of the most restrictive laws in the country dealing with same-sex relationships. Voters in the state adopted an amendment to the state constitution in 2006 that prohibits recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions or in any way treats same-sex couples as if they’re married.

And the state Attorney General is defending the law.

“The attorney general is the people’s attorney, and his job is to defend laws that are put in place by the Legislature and amendments that were approved by the people,” says Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

She says changing the law should be a decision made by the state Legislature and by Michigan voters.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in two unrelated gay marriage cases. Michigan’s case is a little different than those two because Michigan’s marriage ban and adoption laws are so restrictive.

Jane Rouse and Dana DeBoer say they’ll be happy if the judge says gay and lesbian couples can marry in Michigan. But, mostly, they want the judge to say they can both be the parents of all their children in the eyes of the law.