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Filed under: DeBoer

Arguments in Michigan marriage equality case to be heard in mid-October

A federal judge will hear oral arguments in the challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage in mid-October.

Continue 3 Comments September 16, 2013

Michigan officials file response brief in marriage equality case

By Jacob CombsMichigan state seal

This week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, both Republicans, filed their answering brief in the marriage equality case known as DeBoer v. Snyder, a challenge to the state’s equal marriage ban by a lesbian couple who originally sued to obtain joint adoption of their three children but were later encouraged by the judge hearing their case to expand that case to include a marriage challenge.

In their amended complaint, the couple wrote that the Michigan Marriage Amendment–which limits marriage to opposite-sex couples–violates the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.  The couple urged the judge to consider the amendment under the “‘important and substantial relationship’ test,” but also argued that “because the Michigan Marriage Amendment serves no legitimate government interest, it fails the rational basis test, and cannot survive any form of scrutiny.”

Unsurprisingly, Snyder and Schuette disagreed, and used their reply brief to refute the plaintiffs’ arguments.  Although both plaintiffs, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, presented themselves as parents of their three children in their complaint, the state officials deny that both women are the parents of their children, instead falling back on the technical legal argument that “Plaintiff DeBoer is the legal parent of R and Plaintiff Rowse is the legal parent of J and N.”

Throughout their brief filing, Snyder and Schuette repeatedly utilize phrases such as “State Defendants deny that Plaintiffs have been subjected to adverse treatment” or “State Defendants deny any disparate treatment or equal-protection violation.”  The state officials reject the suggestion to use the important and substantial relationship test, arguing instead in favor of a rational basis test, which they allege the Michigan Marriage Amendment clears:

The Michigan Marriage Amendment fosters the State’s legitimate interest in promoting responsible natural procreation, which, in turn, promotes raising children in a home environment with both a mother and a father, giving the children the benefit of having a role model of both sexes.

The Michigan Marriage Amendment does not violate the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. There is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Further, the State’s marriage laws satisfy the rational basis test under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In conclusion, Snyder and Schuette write that “Plaintiffs lack standing to assert some or all of their claims,” “Plaintiffs have not stated a claim for which relief can be granted” and urge the could to “exercise its discretion to abstain from adjudicating these claims.”

Oral arguments in DeBoer v. Snyder are planned for October 1.

After the jump, you can read the full filing, via Scribd.  (H/t to Kathleen, as usual.)


1 Comment July 26, 2013

Michigan marriage equality lawsuit to be argued October 1; new filings in Illinois marriage challenges

By Scottie Thomaston

A scheduling conference in the lawsuit challenging Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, DeBoer v. Snyder, took place yesterday, July 10 in federal district court. The federal judge declined to dismiss the case last week, but did not issue a final ruling or a schedule for further motions or arguments, putting the decision off until yesterday’s conference.

No final decision on the merits of the constitutional challenge to the ban was released yesterday, and the judge has set oral arguments for October 1. Challenges against same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Hawaii are likely to see oral arguments in October as well, though probably at the end of the month, since an extension of time was sought to file briefs. Those cases are already in the appeals court, though, at the Ninth Circuit.

In Illinois, Lambda Legal has filed a motion for summary judgment in Darby v. Orr and Lazaro v. Orr. This is a request for a decision on the merits, (in the plaintiffs’ favor, in this case.) Their brief in support of summary judgment is much like the one they filed in the New Jersey case: both are state cases, both states have civil unions. In one section, they write:

Plaintiffs who obtained civil unions by license from illinois county clerks currently are denied a number of federal benefits and protections that would be available to them and their families if they could marry now that DOMA has been struck down.

The filing goes on to list specific ways civil unions deny same-sex couples equal protection under the law afforded to opposite-sex couples. There is no timeline for the court to act in the case.

2 Comments July 11, 2013

Michigan marriage equality lawsuit will continue; judge rejects motion to dismiss

By Scottie Thomaston

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer
Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer

When the Supreme Court decided to hear challenges to California’s Prop 8 and Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the other federal marriage cases working their way through the lower courts were halted in their respective districts. One of these cases is DeBoer v. Snyder, challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and adoption in federal court. The case started out as simply a challenge to Michigan’s restrictive adoption law, but the challenge failed, and the plaintiffs amended their complaint, adding the marriage ban as a target. The judge placed the case on hold soon after the Supreme Court acted on similar cases.

Yesterday, though, the federal judge rejected the state’s attempt to have the challenge thrown out of court, citing United States v. Windsor.

The judge pointed out that both sides in this litigation can find support in the Windsor decision:

Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim has sufficient merit to proceed. The United StatesSupreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (U.S. Jun. 26, 2013), has provided the requisite precedential fodder for both parties to this litigation. Defendants will no doubt cite to the relevant paragraphs of the majority opinion espousing the state’s “historicand essential authority to define the marital relation.”
On the other hand, plaintiffs are prepared to claim Windsor as their own; their briefs sureto be replete with references to the newly enthroned triumvirate of Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620(1996), Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) and now Windsor. And why shouldn’t they?

There was no indication of how the judge might rule in the end, though he did say that the court “cannot say that plaintiffs’ claims for relief are without plausibility.”

There will be a conference on July 10, during which a trial date will be set.

h/t Kathleen for this filing

2:12-cv-10285 #54 by EqualityCaseFiles

July 2, 2013

Citing Supreme Court’s DOMA decision, federal judge blocks Michigan law that would ban domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples

By Scottie Thomaston

Citing last week’s Supreme Court opinion in United States v. Windsor, striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal judge in Michigan issued a preliminary ruling, temporarily halting a state law that would prohibit domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. With the injunction now in place, benefits can continue to be issued. The ruling marks the first time the Windsor decision, issued only last week, has been cited to expand LGBT rights:

“We’re breathing a sigh of relief right now,” said Peter Ways, an Ann Arbor teacher whose partner would have lost his benefits. “This law was clearly meant to target families like ours and to make us feel as though we didn’t count.”

In granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Lawson found that the law discriminated by forcing cities, counties, school districts, and community colleges to cancel family benefits for gay and lesbian employees in committed relationships while heterosexual employees had the ability to marry their partners to maintain health insurance. Same-sex couples cannot marry in Michigan.

Today’s decision relies in part on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision in Windsor v. United States, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Judge Lawson recognized, as the Supreme Court did, that the Constitution forbids the government from passing laws with a motive to discriminate against gay people. This is the first federal court decision applying the Supreme Court’s reasoning to protect same-sex couples from discrimination in other contexts.

As Towleroad noted, this is the latest in a string of actions in Michigan, including another lawsuit that is more directly related to marriage equality:

The ruling comes just days after Michigan lawmakers introduced legislation to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage which passed in 2004. The ban is also currently under review by federal judge Bernard Friedman, who in March postponed his ruling on the constitutionality of the ban given the Supreme Court’s impending consideration of both Prop. 8 and DOMA. Judge Friedman’s ruling is still forthcoming.

The marriage equality case, DeBoer v. Snyder, is expected to continue now that the Supreme Court’s Term is over and its marriage decisions have been handed down. The judge in that case suggested that the couple expand the reach of their complaint – it was initially only an adoption lawsuit, and they decided to take on the state’s marriage ban itself. When the Supreme Court took up the marriage cases, the judge, along with other federal judges in several other unrelated cases across the country, put the proceedings on hold.

The ruling on the domestic partner benefits case is not a sweeping ruling striking down the law; rather, it’s a preliminary injunction halting the law’s enforcement while the judge hears the merits of the case. But the standard for issuing a preliminary injunction says that the person challenging the law must be likely to succeed on the merits, so an injunction at this stage is at least a good sign that the law’s defenders have an uphill battle ahead of them.

Equality Michigan responded to the decision, issuing a statement:

“Equality Michigan is overjoyed by Judge Lawson’s ruling. In order to attract the best and brightest talent to Michigan, we need to make sure all workers are treated equally. On the heels of the Supreme Court decisions advancing recognition of same-gender relationships, we believe that momentum towards equality and justice is on our side. This is a victory for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families in Michigan who are working to provide stability for their families.”

The case is called Bassett v. Snyder.

h/t Kathleen for the Scribd file of the decision

2:12-cv-10038 #75 by EqualityCaseFiles

July 1, 2013

Supreme Court acts on DOMA, marriage equality, and same-sex benefits petitions that were held pending yesterday’s decisions

By Scottie Thomaston

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review more LGBT rights cases yesterday.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review more LGBT rights cases yesterday.

Yesterday, after the Supreme Court issued its final decisions of the term, it held a conference to determine what the Court should do about the remaining petitions for review in cases related to marriage equality. Recall that although Windsor was the only DOMA case ultimately accepted for review, the Court was actually asked to hear several more challenges to the Act. And although the Prop 8 case was ultimately the vehicle chosen to discuss, possibly, marriage equality, the Court was faced with other cases.

Today’s order list by the Court resolves these DOMA cases, and addresses the petitions in the marriage and benefits cases in their early stages, without commenting on a final outcome so early in the process.

First, in the case marriage equality advocates are watching closely, after yesterday’s final decision in the Prop 8 case: the Court declined to review the petition in Nevada’s marriage equality case, filed by the proponents of the constitutional marriage ban in the state. That case, initially filed by Lambda Legal, is known as Sevcik v. Sandoval in the lower courts, and Coalition for the Protection of Marriage v. Beverly Sevcik, et al at the Supreme Court. So far, only the district court has issued a decision: the judge ruled against the same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit, using a very deferential standard of review. The plaintiffs appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where they were awaiting briefing and arguments; then, the Coalition, the ballot initiative proponents, asked the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of a broad constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The Coalition asked the Court to rule against such a right and to do so even as the plaintiffs continued to argue that the case is much narrower. A request to review a petition before judgment is rarely granted, so it’s no surprise the Court would want to wait until there is full briefing and arguments at the Ninth Circuit.

The Sevcik case was placed on a parallel track with another marriage case, Jackson v. Abercrombie, out of Hawaii. They are both in the Ninth Circuit and both were appealed by same-sex couples who lost in the district court. The Jackson case is not at issue at the Supreme Court at this stage. Now that the petition was denied, both cases can continue. When the Ninth Circuit does hear arguments and issue a ruling, the losing party can ask the Court to review it, and that seems like a likely request in the future. It’s not clear based on yesterday’s decisions if the Court would take up another marriage case, but either way, they likely won’t see another marriage equality petition for a year.

Second, they looked at the other DOMA petitions. The Court simply denied review in the other challenges. The section of the statute at issue in all of these cases was declared unconstitutional yesterday, so it can’t be constitutional in any other situation. There are still some remaining issues, because in some DOMA challenges which have not yet reached the Court (or even an appeals court) other statutes are at stake. There are military and immigration statutes which use the same language as Section 3 of DOMA. However, yesterday’s opinion was written in a way that suggested the definitions violated both equal protection and federalism principles, so there is language which could be used in these other challenges. In denying review of the other DOMA cases, the lower courts will determine if there are any outstanding issues aside from the ones decided in Windsor yesterday. If not, the gay plaintiffs in these cases win judgment in their favor.

Another case the Court declined to review was Brewer v. Diaz. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer petitioned the Court to block a preliminary injunction that was preventing her from implementing a law to deny same-sex couples benefits in the state. It was in the early stages, and if they had taken it up and ruled in her favor, the state would have been able to block the benefits only while the case continued in the lower courts – there was not yet an ultimate judgment on whether the law in the state is permissible or not. Since they decided not to address the case in these early stages, same-sex couples in Arizona will receive benefits while the case works through the courts. The Court could still grant a petition if one is filed after the appeals court rules, but that won’t happen for awhile.

In short, some Ninth Circuit cases will continue, on marriage and benefits, but the only challenges left in the DOMA cases will be those in which Section 3 of DOMA and another statute were challenged, since the other statutes weren’t at issue in Windsor. And with Sevcik and Jackson at the Ninth Circuit, and DeBoer in Michigan continuing, more court action is coming soon.

June 27, 2013

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