Final arguments conclude in DeBoer trial

DETROIT - Arguments in the case challenging Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage concluded Friday in federal court, as each side attempted to point the focus of the case in each other’s favor.

Judge Bernard Friedman said he anticipated he would issue a written judgement the week after next. 

“I have a lot of reading to do, I have a lot of decision-making to do,” Friedman said. “It’s going to take a lot of time.”

The lynchpin of the plaintiff’s argument was that the ban is a violation of the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The state in turn argued that the case should be decided on the “social science and data” surrounding same-sex parenting, and that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the voter approval deserved scrutiny.

Kenneth Mogill, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, opened his concluding argument by declaring “the promise of equality is the promise of America.” 

He argued barring same-sex couples from marriage violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, and questioning their ability to parent violates the equal protection under the law guaranteed in the amendment.

Much of the trial was spent receiving expert testimony, fueling debate on whether children raised by same-sex parents fared as well as children raised in heterosexual households. But Mogill said in his argument that the testimony was essentially irrelevant to the core of the case.

“The court should rule for (the) plaintiffs even if it never gets consideration of that evidence,” Mogill said, arguing that marriage is a fundamental right and that “no other group in society is required to establish its parents competence before being entitled to the right to marry.”

Despite that, he said “there is a strong consensus in social science communities” that there is no difference in children raised in different household structures. 

“They want to try to cast this matter as a social science experiment,” Mogill said. “Life is not an experiment, it’s reality. This case is about real people’s lives, real children’s lives and vulnerabilities and needs ... the question whether they are entitled to the same rights as opposite sex-families and their children goes much deeper than any social science experiement.”

The plaintiffs in the case, Hazel Park parents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, were in court on Friday. DeBoer became visibly emotional during the conclusion of Mogill’s arguments.

Assistant state attorney Kristin Heyse gave the concluding argument Michigan’s defense of the ban, and focused almost solely on the testimony of state expert witnesses. 

They had all authored research that argued the majority of scientific research on same-sex parenting was flawed, and that either there was no consensus on childhood outcomes, or that children in same-sex households fared worse.

 Heyse said the plaintiffs failed to prove that the ban’s approval by voters in 2004 was irrational, and therefore did not warrant the scrutiny known as rational basis review.

“It’s disappointing that rather than debate the merits of social science, the plaintiffs attempt to make this case about something it’s not,” Heyse said.

She said the ban was “not to denegrate other family structures,” but was enacted “to encourage certain ideals,” and “to promote what the majority of people think is the best environment for raising children,” a heterosexual household.

Heyse argued that the court must rule in the state’s favor because research around same-sex parenting and marriage is “just too uncertain.” 

She also asked the judge to issue a stay in the event the ban is overturned, insinuating that the state might appeal the ruling.

Despite being seated on the side of defendants, Michael Pitt, an attorney for Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, also spoke during concluding arguments, only in favor of the plaintiffs, even though she is named among the defendants. 

He said she intends to “begin issuing marriage licenses at the moment she is able to do so by law.”

“The state and its experts have engaged in what I would call breathtaking hypocrisy in its effort to define marriage in its so-called traditional sense,” Pitt said. “This state-sanctioned humiliation must end and it must end now.”

Mogill and the plaintiffs’ legal counsel used the opportunity for rebuttal to the state to take a confident stance.

“Nothing Ms. Heyse has said changes the law or the facts or refutes our arguments, so there is no need for rebuttal,” Mogill said.

Judge Friedman said he will issue his written opinion as soon as it is completed.

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