Michigan Files Regnerus-Free Marriage Appeal Brief
May 8th, 2014
When U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedmam declared Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional last March, he spilled considerable ink all over the state’s expert witness, Mark Regnerus, whose discredited Witherspoon-funded “study” purported to show that children of gay couples fared worse than other children. The problem was — and this came out in the cross-examination of the state’s star witness — the study included only two children who were actually raised by gay parents, and Regnerus admitted that they came out “Pretty good.” In his written opinion, Judge Friedman blasted “his 2012 ‘study’ (which) was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder” as “flawed on its face.”
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision, and in a brief filed with the Sixth District Court of Appeals, he quietly omitted all references to Regnerus’s bogus study, and argued instead that same-sex marriage should be banned not because experts believe that same-sex parents are bad parents, but because voters believe it:
In preserving marriage as between a man and a woman, a reasonable voter might have thought that it is beneficial when children are raised in a home with both a mom and a dad. Another reasonable voter might have thought that this definition encourages those couples with the inherent ability to have children (i.e., opposite-sex couples) to enter into a committed, exclusive relationship, for the benefit of any children they might have. …
This appeal is not about approval or disapproval of same-sex relationships or sexual orientation. Nor is this appeal about a gay or lesbian individual’s ability to be a parent. This case is not about single moms’ and dads’ ability to raise children. As a society, we wish that all children had loving parents, no matter what their sexual orientation may be.
Because Judge Friedman wrote that he could not find that Michigan voters acted out of animus when approving the state’s constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, Schuette’s brief takes as its central argument that striking down the constitutional amendment “demeans democracy,” and cites Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in a Supreme Court ruling (Schuette vs BAMN) upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action. Singling out Kennedy this way is noteworthy. With Kennedy considered the potential swing vote in any upcoming Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, this brief was more or less written to Kennedy, rather than to the judges at the Sixth District Court of Appeals:
Justice Kennedy’s admonition on this point in Schuette is worth repeating: “It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.” 572 U.S. __, slip op. 17. To put this in perspective, more than 45 million American voters across the country have voted to retain the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Respect for the dignity of these millions of voters, who must be presumed to be “decent and rational,” should make courts reluctant to conclude that support for maintaining the definition of marriage is irrational. After all, a decision by this Court that there is no rational basis for Michigan’s voters to have defined marriage as they did necessarily means that not only Michigan’s voters, but more than 42 million other American citizens who have voted the same way, did not have among them a single conceivable rational basis for their votes.
But they’re still not ready to give up their straight-parents-are-the-best argument. They’re just pinning it on voters, and not the experts:
The only question at issue, then, is whether any conceivable reason supports the people’s decision to retain the definition of marriage. Under the governing standards for rational-basis review, the people’s decision must be given the benefit of the doubt—it must be upheld if their policy choice is at least debatable, and even if it is under-inclusive or over-inclusive (or both).
Defining marriage as between one man and one woman satisfies this test. The State has a legitimate interest in marriage precisely because of marriage’s inherent connection to children. The vast majority of children born in Michigan (and the United States and the world) are born as a result of the sexual union of a man and a woman. Promoting marriage as between a man and a woman thus recognizes that every child should have the opportunity to know and have a relationship with his or her biological mother and father, and it increases the likelihood that the most common type of procreation will occur in a long-term, committed relationship. It was reasonable for Michigan voters to think that this is a beneficial setting for children, and thus to link marriage to procreation—the biological fact that every child has a mother and a father.
Michigan isn’t the only state to drop Regnerus like a hot potato. Two weeks after his study went down in flames in the Michigan case, attorneys for the Utah Attorney General’s office filed a special “Supplemental Authority clarifying position re: Regnerus study” with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, in which the state disavowed its own citing of the Regnerus study in the original appeals brief filed in February. It looks like the word has gone out: Regnerus’s study is radioactive and the nearly $800,000 spent on it was wasted — unless you count its influence in Russia as a success.
Michigan Couples Rush County Clerks Offices For Marriage Licenses (Updated)
March 22nd, 2014
News reports are crediting a Lansing couple, Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 52, as the first same-sex couple to marry in Michigan this morning after a Federal judge struck down Michigan’s Marriage Amendment (MMA) as unconstitutional late yesterday afternoon. They were married, after twenty-seven years together, shortly after the Ingham County Clerk’s office opened at 8:00 a.m. and issued them a license.
Ingham County was one of a handful of Michigan to open for special hours today specifically to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The other counties where clerks have opened today for special hours included Washtenaw (Ann Arbor), Muskegon (Muskegon, on Lake Michigan) and Oakland (Pontiac).
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has already filed a notice that he was appealing the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and he filed a separate request to the Sixth Circuit to stay the lower court’s ruling. The Sixth Circuit has yet to act on the request.
Update: From the Detroit Free Press:
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals will not act over the weekend on a stay requested by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in the gay marriage case, the court said in an order posted today.
The court has given the plaintiffs in the case, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, until Tuesday to file a response to Schuette’s request for a stay of U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s Friday order declaring Michigan’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
More than two hundred couples were able to marry in the four counties which opened their offices today. This notice from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indicates that thousands more will be able to marry beginning on Monday when County Clerks Offices open statewide.
Update: The Sixth Circuit late Saturday issued a temporary stay until Wednesday. Again, from the Detroit Free Press:
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, after first signaling it would not intervene in Michigan’s gay marriage case until Tuesday, posted a new order late Saturday imposing a stay in the case until Wednesday. …
“To allow a more reasoned consideration of the motion to stay, it is ordered that the district court judgment is temporarily stayed until Wednesday,” the 6th Circuit said in an order late Saturday.
About 323 marriage licenses had been issued in four Michigan counties before the Sixth Circuit issued its stay.
Federal Judge Strikes Down Michigan Marriage Ban
March 21st, 2014
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman issued a ruling today striking down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage as a violation of the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. This ruling marks the ninth federal court victory in a row for marriage equality since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last summer striking down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Reagan-appointee to the Federal bench heard testimony in the case two weeks ago which featured Mark Regnerus, the author of the widely discredited report alleging that children of same-sex parents have poorer outcomes, as the state’s star witness. His testimony didn’t hold up well under cross examination. What’s more, his own sociology department at the University of Texas issued a statement distancing themselves from Regnerus on the very morning he was set to testify. All that had Judge Freidman devoting two pages of his thirty-one page opinion to Regnerus’s testimony:
The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 “study” was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it “essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society” and which “was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.” See Pls.’ Motion in limine to Exclude Testimony of Mark Regnerus, Ex. 9. In the funder’s view, “the future of the institution of marriage at this moment is very uncertain” and “proper research” was needed to counter the many studies showing no differences in child outcomes. Id. The funder also stated that “this is a project where time is of the essence.” Id. Time was of the essence at the time of the funder’s comments in April 2011, and when Dr. Regnerus published the NFSS in 2012, because decisions such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 704 F. Supp. 2d 921 (N.D. Cal. 2010), and Windsor v. United States, 833 F. Supp. 2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), were threatening the funder’s concept of “the institution of marriage.”
The primary funder was the the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, which provided $695,000 for the study. The Bradley Institute kicked in another $90,000. Anti-gay activist Robert George sits on the board of directors of both organizations, as well as the editorial advisory board of the LDS-owned Deseret News, which was the only paper to receive an advance copy of the study. The study had been fast-tracked to publication by the conservative editor of the journal Social Science Research. Judge Friedman found the study’s funding source was at least partly behind the study’s appalling methodology:
While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Additionally, the NFSS is flawed on its face, as it purported to study “a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18-39) who were raised in different types of family arrangements” (emphasis added), but in fact it did not study this at all, as Regnerus equated being raised by a same-sex couple with having ever lived with a parent who had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex” for any length of time. Whatever Regnerus may have found in this “study,” he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.
Regernus’s testimony was part of a larger argument that the state of Michigan tried to make in support of the ban on same-sex marriage. Attorneys for the state based much of their case on what they called the “optimal environment” for raising children. Judge Friedman found that position “absurd”:
[T]he state defendants’ position suffers from a glaring inconsistency. Even assuming that children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than children raised by heterosexual married couples, the state defendants fail to explain why Michigan law does not similarly exclude certain classes of heterosexual couples from marrying whose children persistently have had “sub-optimal” developmental outcomes. According to Rosenfeld’s study, children raised by suburban residents academically outperformed those children raised by rural and urban residents. Likewise, “middle class and poor families are ‘sub-optimal’ compared to well-off families, and couples with less formal education are “sub-optimal” compared to couples with more formal education.” Pls.’ Ex. 31 at 5. A child’s racial background is another predictive indicator of future success, as the study showed that “the probability of making good progress through school is greater in the U.S. for children of Asian descent than for children of all other racial groups.” Id. Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. Obviously the state has not adopted this policy and with good reason. The absurdity of such a requirement is self-evident. Optimal academic outcomes for children cannot logically dictate which groups may marry.
The state also argued that any changes to the institution of marriage should “proceed with caution” before opening it up to same-sex couples. Judge Friedman found that argument “not persuasive”:
But the calculus is fundamentally altered when constitutional rights are implicated because “any deprivation of constitutional rights calls for prompt rectification.” Watson v. Memphis, 373 U.S. 526, 532-533 (1963). “The basic guarantees of our Constitution are warrants for the here and now and, unless there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason, they are to be promptly fulfilled.” Id. The state may not shield itself with the “wait-and-see” approach and sit idly while social science research takes its plodding and deliberative course. Were the Court to accept this position, “it would turn the rational basis analysis into a toothless and perfunctory review” because “the state can plead an interest in proceeding with caution in almost any setting.” Kitchen v. Herbert, No. 13-217, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179331, at *77 (D. Utah Dec. 20, 2013). Rather, the state must have some rationale beyond merely asserting that there is no conclusive evidence to decide an issue one way or another. See Perry, 704 F. Supp. 2d at 972 (quoting Romer for the proposition that “[e]ven under the most deferential standard of review . . . the court must ‘insist on knowing the relation between the classification adopted and the object to be attained.’”). Since the “wait-and-see” approach fails to meet this most basic threshold it cannot pass the rational basis test.
The state also argued that it had a legitimate interest in upholding “tradition and morality”:
The difficulty with this justification is two-fold. First, the Supreme Court has held that tradition alone does not satisfy rational basis review. See Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 326 (1993) (stating that the “[a]ncient lineage of a legal concept does not give it immunity from attack for lacking a rational basis.”). Second, traditional notions of marriage are often enmeshed with the moral disapproval of redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships. On this point, many federal courts have noted that moral disapproval is not a sufficient rationale for upholding a provision of law on equal protection grounds. See Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Servs., 682 F.3d 1, 15 (1st Cir. 2012) (invalidating section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act because the statute expressed a moral disapproval of homosexuality)…
And finally, in the throw-all-the-spaghetti-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks strategy of the state’s attorneys, they argued that marriage was solely a state question, and they even tried to cite Windsor to support that argument:
The state defendants gloss over one important caveat. While the justices recognized the state’s expansive power in the realm of domestic relations, they also noted that this power has its limits. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that domestic relations “laws defining and regulating marriage, of course, must respect the constitutional rights of persons . . . but, subject to those guarantees, regulation of domestic relations is an area that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the states,” id. (citing Loving) (internal quotations omitted), and that “[t]he states’ interest in defining and regulating the marital relation [is] subject to constitutional guarantees . . .” Id. at 2692. These statements are not merely surplusage, and as one district astutely remarked, “[a] citation to Loving is a disclaimer of enormous proportion.” Bishop, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4374, at *66.
…Taken together, both the Windsor and Loving decisions stand for the proposition that, without some overriding legitimate interest, the state cannot use its domestic relations authority to legislate families out of existence. Having failed to establish such an interest in the context of same-sex marriage, the MMA cannot stand.
Because Judge Friedman did not issue a temporary stay against his ruling, there had been reports now that an unknown number of clerk offices in Michigan are re-opening to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So far, it appears that the ruling came down after most of the county clerk offices had closed. Unless some of them open for special hours this weekend, the earliest that anyone will be able to marry will be Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has already filed a notice that he was appealing the decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a separate filing, he asked the Sixth Circuit to stay the lower court’s ruling.
Michigan Gay Marriage Ban Trial Ends With A Bang
March 7th, 2014
Michigan’s gay marriage trial ended on an explosive note today, with the state’s final witness saying he believes unrepentant homosexuals are going to hell.
His views emerged following a question from plaintiffs attorney Ken Mogill, who is fighting to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage.
“Is it accurate that you believe the consequence of engaging in homosexual acts is a separation from God and eternal damnation?” Mogill asked the state’s expert, then added, “in other words, they’re going to hell?”
“Without repentance, yes,” answered the expert, Canadian economist Douglas Allen, the last witness to testify on behalf of the state in a trial that could make Michigan the 18th state to legalize gay marriage.
Things didn’t go well at all for the State of Michigan, which is defending the ban in Federal Court. The State’s first witness, a philosopher from Princeton, was disqualified as an expert witness. That testimony was supposed to tee-up Mark Regnerus, the author of the widely discredited report alleging that children of same-sex parents have poorer outcomes, to take the stand for the first time since the report’s publication. But just before Regnerus took the stand, his colleagues at the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas issued a statement distancing themselves from his testimony:
Like all faculty, Dr. Regnerus has the right to pursue his areas of research and express his point of view. However, Dr. Regnerus’ opinions are his own. They do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families. We encourage society as a whole to evaluate his claims.
That set the stage for Regnerus’s testimony:
Critics said Regnerus’ 248-person study included just two who had been raised from birth to adulthood by gay couples. When asked Monday how those two fared, Regnerus replied, “Pretty good.”
On Tuesday, (ACLU attorney Leslie) Cooper asked Regnerus how big a study would need to be to satisfy his curiosity about child welfare and how much it would cost. He said it would cost tens of millions of dollars over several years. Cooper asked whether he believed such funding could be approved, and Regnerus said it was unlikely.
“So,” Cooper asked, “if a nationally representative, large-scale longitudinal study is never done because it’s too expensive, is it your opinion that same-sex people should never be allowed to marry?”
Refusing to answer that question, Regnerus deflected into mumbo-jumbo about “common expectations about marriage.” He was also asked about other types of families: poor families, less educated families, remarried families, where statistics also show poorer outcomes in children. Should they be barred from marrying for the same reasons?
Regnerus said no regarding the poor and less educated, but said he didn’t have an opinion about heterosexual remarriage.
“You don’t have an opinion whether prior divorced people should be allowed to get married?” Cooper asked.
“It exists,” he said. “I don’t think much about that … I think it would be nice if (couples) can work it out.”
Regnerus also insisted he hadn’t formed an opinion on whether it is better for a child in foster care to remain in a foster home or be adopted by a same-sex couple.
Throughout the proceedings, Regnerus stuck to his insistence that biological, intact families are best and that anything else, including adoption, is “a concession.”
It was an excruciating grilling, which the free-lance reporter, Steve Friess, live-tweeted on Monday and Tuesday:
Friess is back live-tweeting closing arguments today, this time for Buzzfeed.
Federal Judge Sets February Trial Date for Michigan Marriage Ban Lawsuit
October 16th, 2013
Federal District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman turned down requests to issue a summary judgment either for or against the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. A lesbian couple who, between them, have adopted three special needs children, had asked the court to declare the state’s constitutional ban, which was approved by Michigan voters in 2004, unconstitutional under the Federal constitution. There had been widespread expectation that Judge Friedman would rule on the ban’s constitutionality. A trial date has been set for February 25.
Michigan judge delays marriage ruling
March 7th, 2013
Today U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments from the couple who want to adopt each other’s children as to how the Michigan marriage laws unfairly discriminate against them. But while Judge Friedman noted that their argument was compelling, he’s delaying his decision.
Friedman said he would benefit from seeing how the U.S. Supreme Court handles cases involving a gay marriage ban in California as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Arguments are scheduled later this month in Washington.
An immediate ruling in Michigan “would not be fair to either side,” Friedman said while holding court in front of students at Wayne State University law school.
“They’re going to give us something to hang our hat on,” he said of the Supreme Court.
Which, disappointing as it is, may be the most logical decision.
Michigan enters the race for 10
March 6th, 2013
All year it’s been up in the air which state would be the tenth state to achieve marriage equality. The most likely have been Illinois and Minnesota, but Hawaii and Rhode Island have teased us. Even Wyoming briefly toyed with the idea. But now a dark horse is making strides.
You may recall back in August 2012 when two lesbians seeking to adopt each other’s children were told they had the wrong complaint. The judge in the case told them that their problem wasn’t adoption law, but marriage law. It is perfectly reasonable (from a legal perspective) for a state to decide to restrict joint adoption to those people who were sufficiently committed to each other to get married. The discrimination in this case wasn’t in adoption, it was in that they couldn’t marry.
So the ladies refiled their challenge as a marriage discrimination complaint. They had to; they have kids they need to look out for.
And now the judge is ready to rule. (ABC)
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman will hear arguments in the case Thursday at a Detroit law school, although he hasn’t indicated when he’ll make a ruling. If he concludes the amendment violates the U.S. Constitution, gay-marriage supporters say same-sex couples would immediately be allowed to wed and adopt children.
Friedman was appointed by President Reagan.
Michigan marriage challenge update
September 7th, 2012
A lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, sued the state of Michigan over its adoption laws. Their lawyer explains: (Detroit Free Press)
One of their lawyers, Dana Nessel, pointed out that the state of Michigan certified DeBoer and Rowse to become foster parents together but won’t allow them to both adopt. Michigan law only allows singles or married couples to adopt.
“The state gave them children who had been abandoned and surrendered at birth to raise,” Nessel said. “And they are raising them with all the love, nurturing, care and affection that any parent would give to any child. But the state then rewards these women by telling them while they are good enough to foster as a couple, they aren’t good enough to adopt as a couple. We submit that this is pure and utter insanity.”
But the judge in the case surprised them by noting that they were fighting the wrong battle. Their issues would be over if they married and it’s really the marriage ban that is causing them to be subjected to discrimination.
Personally, I get that. I can see how a state could argue that if a couple was unwilling to make the legal commitments binding themselves together that they were not ideal to jointly adopt children. But it can’t then turn around and refuse to let the couple make such legal commitments.
So April and Jayne have updated their petition.
DeBoer and partner Jayne Rowse decided to take the battle they’re already fighting in U.S. District Court in Detroit one step further today. They amended their complaint in front of Judge Bernard A. Friedman that asks for the right to adopt as a same-sex couple, instead challenging Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard Jr. to declare Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and partnerships unconstitutional.
“This is totally not what we expected by any means,” Rowse said today, away from the podium during an announcement in the Penobscot Building. “We wanted to keep the kids’ rights at the forefront, the rights that any other child has.”
Lesbian couple suing for adoption rights are told that they have the wrong issue
August 29th, 2012
April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, both nurses, have three children: (Detroit News)
DeBoer adopted a girl, born in February 2010 to a 19-year-old mother.
Rowse, meanwhile, adopted two boys, ages 3 and 2. One was surrendered by his biological mother and the other was abandoned by his mother, a drug-addicted prostitute
But Michigan state law will not allow them to adopt the children jointly, thus giving the children the extra rights and security that come from two-parent adoption (which are considerable). They asked U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman, a 68 year-old Reagan appointee, to overturn the state’s law as unconstitutional.
He said, “no”. Or, at least, “not yet”. Because they really were focusing on the wrong issue:
Friedman said Wednesday he’d consider arguments from both sides before rendering his decision, but will first allow the plaintiffs ten days to consider amending their complaint to include a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
“That’s the underlying issue,” Friedman told attorneys, noting that he’s “not suggesting they do it.”
“Both arguments are about marriage and how broad or narrow it should be. That’s the bottom line.”
Oh. Well, come to think of it, that would be the real issue, wouldn’t it?
Of course, just because Judge Friedman correctly noted the real discrimination issue doesn’t mean that he will find the ban unconstitutional. But it does suggest that he correctly understands DeBoer and Rowse’s underlying problem. So I think it is at least likely that he’s sympathetic to giving the marriage issue a fair hearing. And we seldom need more than a fair hearing to point out the obvious.
How very fascinating it would be for DeBoer and Rowse to sue for adoption rights only to find that they’ve overturned the state’s marriage ban.