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Federal court grants request to split Michigan marriage equality trial in two parts

DeBoer LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

The federal challenge to Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban will go to trial on February 25, and will be split into two parts, now that the judge hearing the case has granted a motion to bifurcate the proceedings.

Back in October, the judge held a hearing on the parties’ opposing motions for summary judgment, deciding ultimately to deny both of their motions, and instead of issuing a ruling at that time on the merits, holding a bench trial on the facts of the case and the rationales for the ban. The written order set the trial date for February 25, 2014.

The same-sex couple and their children filed a request for the case to be split into two parts: the first part for trying the facts related to the same-sex marriage and adoption ban and the rationales for the ban, and then, if the judge decided it was necessary, to hold the second part on the issue of the level of judicial scrutiny that should apply to cases involving gays and lesbians. The state opposed splitting up the trial into two parts, and argued that all evidence could be heard at the same time.

The judge’s latest order, issued Friday, grants the plaintiff’s motion, allowing the case to proceed to the question of the level of judicial scrutiny if the court decides that evidence would be necessary to resolve the dispute. While the state had argued that splitting the issues in this way might prejudice the judge, their arguments are outweighed by “the preservation of judicial and party resources should the disposition of the first trial render the heightened scrutiny testimony superfluous.”

The second part of the trial would focus largely on the criteria for heightened judicial scrutiny, such as whether gays and lesbians are sufficiently politically powerless, whether they have an immutable characteristic, and whether being gay or lesbian affects one’s ability to contribute to society.

The case is DeBoer v. Snyder.

Thanks to Kathleen Perrin for this filing

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  • 1. Dr. Z  |  January 6, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I confess I don't understand what this split is supposed to accomplish.

  • 2. Lymis  |  January 7, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Not a lawyer. But over the history of all this, over and over, most courts have gone out of their way to declare that the question of heightened scrutiny need not apply.

    When we win, they tend to say that (and I agree) there is no rational connection between any of the things the state says they have a right to protect or encourage and denying some gay right or the other. Since heightened scrutiny is not required, they don't have to address it.

    When we lose, the courts tend to completely ignore the question, base their analysis on rational basis, blur the link between the goal and the method, and declare the state is free to discriminate.

    Heightened scrutiny, if it were acknowledged as necessary, would make it infinitely harder for states or the federal government to discriminate – because it means that the state has to not only prove they have a good reason for the law, but that burdening gay people is the ONLY way to accomplish that goal. That's really hard.

    Case after case, – see the Utah case as an example, – judges keep finding that they feel that heightened scrutiny should apply, but then rule for us based on rational basis. On the one hand, that means that THAT law in THAT situation must fall, but it doesn't do anything to raise the standard in any other situation.

    So, for example, they'd rule that you can't discriminate against us in our private sexual conduct for reasons specific to things about private sexual conduct, but by not applying heightened scrutiny, they are explicitly leaving the door open for it to be okay to discriminate against us for other reasons.

    Even if marriage is granted to us nationwide under rational basis, it doesn't mean we can't be discriminated against in employment, housing, adoption, medical care, or things like cake sales and photography, and each specific case has to go all the way up for that aspect of life to be ruled on.

    A recent proposed exception to the marriage laws (I forget where) included fuzzy language about "religious organizations" which could easily be interpreted as allowing someone to set up a "Christian Chamber of Commerce," let people pay $1.00, and be exempt from all anti-gay discrimination laws. That sort of law might pass rational basis – religion is a fundamental right and the government is required not to pass laws that burden religious observance, but it would never pass heightened scrutiny, since it's transparent that the purpose is to harm gay people.

    Normally, if a group has not been declared a suspect class and laws that burden them are subject to heightened scrutiny, judges are expected to rule based on the lowest level of scrutiny that applies. So an anti-gay law may be overturned on rational basis without even asking the heightened scrutiny question.

    If this judge can rule on rational basis, he's pretty much required to. By splitting the case, it allows that ruling to be on rational basis with a nod to heightened scrutiny, AND have a definitive ruling from a federal court that heightened scrutiny is warranted even if a law fails on rational basis.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong on this.

  • 3. Marriage Equality Round-U&hellip  |  January 7, 2014 at 7:46 am

    […] USA, Michigan: A federal judge agreed to split a trial that includes a marriage equality component into two, making a ruling on the merits more likely. The trial will oriceed on 2/25/14. full story […]

  • 4. Policy and Legal Update &&hellip  |  January 13, 2014 at 7:15 am

    […] MICHIGAN  •  On 3 January 2014, in April DeBoer & Jayne Rowse v. MI Governor Rick Snyder, et al., a case challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2004 ban on same-gender marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, and joint adoption, the judge granted the plaintiffs’ request to split the trial into 2 parts.  •  MEUSA Summary  •  News Source […]

  • 5. Equality On TrialACLU, GL&hellip  |  January 22, 2014 at 8:20 am

    […] DeBoer trial will take place on February 25, and will be split into two parts, the first part addressing the constitutionality of Michigan’s adoption and same-sex marriage […]

  • 6. CValner  |  February 16, 2014 at 6:12 am

    In anticipation of the upcoming Feb. 25, 2014 Michigan same-sex marriage and joint adoption trial, a slideshow set to music of the 10-16-2013 Michigan Marriage Challenge Rally outside Detroit Federal Courthouse prior to DeBoer vs Snyder motion hearing on Michigan same-sex marriage equality and joint same-sex adoption.

  • 7. CValner  |  February 16, 2014 at 7:17 am

    [youtube ibChoON5_o4& youtube]

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