Despite widespread hopes for a marriage equality ruling Wednesday, a federal judge in Michigan declined to give a final decision in a case challenging the state’s constitutional ban on allowing same-sex couples to marry, saying “fact issues” remain in the case.
After hearing brief oral arguments from both sides in a Detroit courtroom, Judge Bernard Friedman denied both sides’ motions for the judge to rule for their side on summary judgement, a procedure used to decide cases when no factual disputes exist.
Saying he was not ready to issue a final decision the matter, the case will now go to trial beginning Feb. 25.
“I’m in the middle,” Friedman said, according a report by the Detroit Free Press. “I have to decide this as a matter of law. I intend to do so.”
At one point, Friedman said he wished he could have made a ruling from the bench, but that he will expedite the case because “time is of the essence.” Lawyers on both sides are required to exchange witness lists for trial in the coming weeks.
Same-sex couples waited in anticipation of a ruling in favor of marriage equality outside the offices of a number of county clerks who said they would issue marriage licenses if the court allowed it.
In July, Friedman refused to throw out the case, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling to strike down the federal definition of marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s equal marriage ban, Proposition 8.
The plaintiffs in the case, April DeBoer and her partner, Jayne Rowse, initially challenged the state’s ban on adoption rights for same-sex couples last January, but would ultimately take on the state’s 2004 vote-approved constitutional marriage ban as well. DeBoer and Rowse, who are both Detroit-area nurses, would like to adopt each other’s children, but cannot do so under the current Michigan Adoption Code, which prohibits unmarried couples from adopting.
DeBoer, 42, has a 3-year-old daughter and Rowse, 48, has two boys in preschool.
Attorneys for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a defendant in the case, have argued — and reiterated again Wednesday — that only the state has the authority to determine marital rights, not the courts.
Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown is also listed as a defendant in the case, but has made clear she supports marriage equality. Brown’s attorney, Michael Pitt, laid out the clerk’s position at the hearing, saying the clerk’s duty is to ensure that every person seeking a marriage license is treated equally, but has been forced to discriminate against same-sex couples under the state’s law, according to the paper.
The state’s ban has forced her to tell gay and lesbian couples “that their otherwise valid relationship is not entitled to state recognition,” Pitt said. Brown intends to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in her county — the second most populous in the state — as soon as the court allows her to.
“She will delay in not even one minute in carrying out this duty,” Pitt said.
On the steps of the courthouse, Dana Nessel, one of four attorneys representing the plaintiffs, told reporters she has “every confidence” that her team’s expert witnesses can demonstrate to the court that same-sex couples are just as good of parents as opposite-sex couples and noted the urgency of a ruling in the case
“When you live every day with that kind of insecurity raising a child as your own and you know you have no legal rights to that child — that’s really scary,” she said. “It’s frightful for them, as are so many other same-sex couples living in this state day by day.”
Nessel said she is hopeful Friedman will rule that both the state’s marriage ban and its adoption code are unconstitutional, and said DeBoer and Howse, “Are going to continue to fight for their children.”