By Ed White
DETROIT: Same-sex couples queued up all afternoon at county courthouses, some even carrying wedding flowers. Then a federal judge deciding whether to throw out Michigan’s gay marriage ban shocked everyone, saying simply: Wait till next year.
After hearing arguments and poring over a stack of legal briefs, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said Wednesday he needs to hear from experts on Feb. 25 before settling the fate of a 2004 Michigan constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
“This was never a scenario we imagined,” Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown said. Same-sex couples were at her office, anxious to get a marriage license if the judge ruled in their favor.
“One couple has been together for 53 years,” Brown added. “I think they’ve waited long enough.”
The lawsuit, brought by Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, two Detroit-area nurses in a lesbian relationship, argues that Michigan’s constitutional amendment violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, which forbids states from treating people differently. The amendment was approved by 59 percent of voters in 2004.
Friedman clearly caught lawyers on both sides off guard, as they had agreed to have him decide the issue on arguments and briefs.
More than 100 people were in the courtroom, anticipating a decision in favor of gay marriage, and dozens more watched a video feed of the hearing in a nearby room. A groan went up in that room when Friedman said he’s not ready to make a decision.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
An attorney for Michigan said the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that states have authority to regulate marriage. Kristin Heyse noted that more than 2.5 million voters supported the amendment.
“The people of the state of Michigan should be allowed to decide Michigan law. This is not the proper forum to decide social issues,” Heyse, an assistant attorney general, told the judge.
Rowse, 49, and DeBoer, 42, who have lived together for about eight years, declined comment outside court.
“We were all hoping for an immediate ruling, but they understand it’s a very long process,” Dana Nessel, co-counsel for the couple, told reporters.