Big Victory for Equality in Michigan


Federal Judge Bernard Friedman, a Reagan appointee, delivered a major victory for equality late Friday afternoon by striking down Michigan’s law forbidding same-sex marriage and second-parent adoption. The decision is absolutely devastating to the anti-equality side in every possible way, including shredding Scott Regnerus and his laughable study.

The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration…

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.

The judge also pointed out the obvious, that good outcomes for children is a function of good parenting skills, not gender or sexual orientation, quoting expert witness Brodzinsky:

It’s not the gender of the parent that’s the key. It’s the quality of parenting that’s being offered by whoever is there, husband or wife, two women, two men, a single parent, as long as the factors that we listed . . . are present: good mental health, good parent-child relationships, what we call an authoritative parenting style, which is warmth, stimulation, structure, and the availability of resources. Then we’re going to have a child who is much more likely to be healthy.

And he pointed out that the state’s justifications are not borne out by their own actions:

Second, the optimal child-rearing justification for the MMA is belied by the state’s own marriage requirements. The prerequisites for obtaining a marriage license under Michigan law do not include the ability to have children, a requirement to raise them in any particular family structure, or the prospect of achieving certain “outcomes” for children. By the same token, the state does not allow for the annulment of a marriage once a couple discovers it cannot conceive, or if the family structure changes, or if the couple’s children do poorly in school.

Third, contrary to the state defendants’ contentions, the MMA actually fosters the potential for childhood destabilization. For instance, in this particular case should either of the plaintiffs die or become incapacitated, the surviving non-legal parent would have no authority under Michigan law to make legal decisions on behalf of the surviving children without resorting to a prolonged and complicated guardianship proceeding. And in the event that a state court were to award guardianship of the surviving children to the non-legal parent, the guardianship
would have to be renewed annually and would remain susceptible to the challenge of an interested party at any time. This, as Brodzinsky testified, places such children in a legally precarious situation and deprives them of “social capital.”

Fourth, the 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.” 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.” 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.

And just as important, none of the arguments for why gay people can’t get married are ever applied to straight people. If it’s really about good outcomes for children, shouldn’t a person’s fitness to be a parent be the primary consideration when granting a marriage license? It isn’t, of course.

Even today, the State of Michigan does not make fertility or the desire to have children a prerequisite for obtaining a marriage license. As defendant Lisa Brown testified, Michigan county clerks are not authorized to consider a couple’s stability, criminal record, ability to procreate, parenting skills, or the potential future outcomes of their children before issuing a marriage license. County clerks may only evaluate the age and
residency of the license applicants and whether either of the applicants is currently married.

The Court finds Brown to be highly credible and gives her testimony great weight. She testified convincingly that county clerks in Michigan must issue a marriage license to any couple who meet the sparse statutory requirements concerning age, residency, and single status. Clerks do not inquire about whether applicants intend to raise children, whether they possess good parenting skills, or whether they have a criminal record.

This is a very important point. The state was claiming that letting gay people get married is worse for children and the judge pointed out that we have indisputable evidence of a whole range of traits that are terrible for children that clerks not only don’t ask about but can’t ask about when issuing a marriage license. No one asks a straight couple seeking to get married whether they’ve been previously divorced, whether they’re alcoholics, whether they’ve cheated on someone before, whether they’re educated, whether they can support children financially, whether they’ve got convictions for violent felonies. You can be a repeat child molester and not only will that not prevent you from getting a marriage license, but the clerk can’t even inquire about it. But if the couple is gay, even if they don’t have any children or ever plan to have them, we obviously have to prevent that — you know, for the good of the children.

All of these arguments fail because they’re pretextual, not honest. They’re the arguments they’re forced to make because they can’t make their real argument, which is “EWWWWW, gay people are icky!” The judge refused to issue a stay of his ruling and the AG asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue one. Some county clerks are opening on Saturday to issue licenses and perform weddings. That stay will be granted, it’s just a question of when. You can read the full ruling here.

Comments

  1. marcus says

    I really, really like this guy. I also enjoyed the tone of the resounding *smack* up against the side of Regnerus’ empty head,

  2. says

    The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration…

    That’s gonna leave a mark!! OW!

    Regnerus: Aaaaaaahhahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

  3. Sastra says

    You know who does ask those probing questions concerning “whether they’re previously divorced, whether they’re alcoholics, whether they’ve cheated on someone before, whether they’re educated, whether they can support children financially, whether they’ve got convictions for violent felonies?” In fact, this is a group which is often expected and even encouraged to ask such questions of potential married couples.

    Parents. Particularly when dealing with minors.

    And this argument came from a political group which wants government to be less intrusive, which claims that liberals want a Nanny State. The irony, it burns.

  4. Randomfactor says

    The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration…

    Especially that part where he starts talking about what some guy up in the sky wants.

  5. matty1 says

    No one asks a straight couple seeking to get married whether they’ve been previously divorced

    This surprises me, people I know who have got married were indeed asked to confirm that they weren’t already married and if there was a previous marriage that question is effectively the same as “have you got divorced?”. I the case of mixed nationality marriages I think actual evidence was required, either a statement from the relevant authorities is the foreign jurisdiction that they had no record of this person every marrying or court papers showing a finalised divorce for each marriage they did have a record of.

  6. donkensler says

    I don’t make a habit of reading judicial opinions (IANAL), but I read this one, and I was struck by the level of snark Judge Friedman showed. I get the feeling he had fun writing this one.

  7. John Pieret says

    Judge Friedman’s conclusion is pretty good:

    In attempting to define this case as a challenge to “the will of the people,” state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2694. Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.

  8. dingojack says

    “As defendant Lisa Brown testified, Michigan county clerks are not authorized to consider a couple’s stability, criminal record, ability to procreate, parenting skills, or the potential future outcomes of their children before issuing a marriage license. County clerks may only evaluate the age and residency of the license applicants and whether either of the applicants is currently married.”

    Not authorised and, more importantly, not qualified. Sheesh they want to hire fully trained social workers, psychologists and/or OBGYNs as county clerks now? And how would the county afford their wages?
    Remember folks – brought to you by the party of personal and financial responsibility.
    @@

    Dingo

  9. says

    Unfortunately, the state got a different federal judge to stay the ruling a few hours later. For now, marriage equality is on hold in Michigan, and the governor has said that the marriages that were done (around 300, if memory serves) will be ignored for now.

    Jackass.

  10. says

    Link about Michigan marriages being on hold.

    I cannot see this as having any lasting effect: case law is just too strong at this point. Unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise, marriage equality is a reality in this country, so much so that even Mrs. Srivastav (aka Maggie Gallagher; why does the Maven of Marriage refuse to use her Hindu husband’s name?) has thrown in the towel.

  11. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    Clearly, since the Judge is a Reagan appointee, then Ronald Reagan must be a RINO.

    And more seriously, I’m glad that with Judge Friedman and Judge Jones finding against their putative party, it shows that at least sometimes we do indeed have an objective judiciary.

  12. Michael Heath says

    donkensler writes:

    I don’t make a habit of reading judicial opinions (IANAL), but I read this one, and I was struck by the level of snark Judge Friedman showed. I get the feeling he had fun writing this one.

    IIRC, this is the case that where this judge requested the plaintiffs expand their complaint to include a challenge to Michigan’s anti-gay marriage laws.

    So not only do I think this judge enjoyed writing this opinion, but developed this argument in advance of the case and was chomping at the bit to confront the grave injustice gays suffered through in this state.

    Because I’ve never bought into the whole humble referee analogy conservative justices falsely assert about themselves in nomination hearings, I’m glad to see judges eager to dispense actual justice.

    As a fan of well-crafted arguments, I’m also impressed with this judge’s systemic take-down that the bigots impotently relied upon to justify their bigotry. As vividly demonstrated in this opinion, the bigots lie when they claim their defense of this law is to supposedly protect the superior rights of children even if it infringes upon the rights of gay people. Anti-gay rights advocates are demonstrating bigotry; pure and simple. And that bigotry continues to be justified by how conservative Christians assert the Bible reads and their continued promotion that society submit to such a reading; the Hell with the 14th Amendment and other constitutional protections of our liberty rights.

    And even after gay people’s marriage rights are defended across all states, gay children raised to be fundamentalist will continue to be abused by the authority figures around them, including those who claim they’re all for gay civil marriage while remaining entrenched in churches who discriminate against gay people.

    The interesting question here is whether the younger generation of fundamentalist and evangelicals will continue to enforce bigotry towards gay people and their families when they become middle-aged and older, for those who remain congregants in conservative churches. Fundamentalist and evangelical women have long allowed themselves to be subjected to discrimination. That hasn’t been true of gay people over the past couple of decades; partly because there’s no middle ground sanctuary for gay people in fundamentalist churches like there arguably is for females. So it will be interesting to observe how these churches confront their own bigotry once the country’s governmental entities defend the rights of gays and the mainstream culture ends its own bigotry towards gays.

  13. marcus says

    @ 13 I knew that, and I stand in solidarity with our soft-billed brothers and sisters everywhere.

  14. rabbitscribe says

    “So it will be interesting to observe how these churches confront their own bigotry once the country’s governmental entities defend the rights of gays and the mainstream culture ends its own bigotry towards gays.”

    No it won’t be particularly interesting. They’ll just pretend they were in the forefront of the fight for equality all along, and that it was only a handful of fringe Christians who ever opposed gay marriage, just like with every other civil rights battle Christians have lost.

  15. says

    As far as I’m concerned, when your best argument is “Won’t someone think of the children?” you’ve already lost.

  16. cjcolucci says

    I tried a case in front of Judge Friedman several years ago when he was sitting by designation in my district. I thought he was good. Unfoirtunately, a decision he rendered in our favor was reversed on what seemed to me to be shaky grounds. Let’s hope his home Circuit treats him better.

  17. hunter says

    Has anyone noticed how the country clerks, which are really the states’ boots on the ground in these cases, are more than willing to extend their offices’ hours and open on weekends to accommodate gay couples after these decisions are handed down?

    Apparently the governors/AGs aren’t getting the message.

  18. Michael Heath says

    I wrote earlier:

    So it will be interesting to observe how these churches confront their own bigotry once the country’s governmental entities defend the rights of gays and the mainstream culture ends its own bigotry towards gays.”

    rabbitscribe responds:

    No it won’t be particularly interesting. They’ll just pretend they were in the forefront of the fight for equality all along, and that it was only a handful of fringe Christians who ever opposed gay marriage, just like with every other civil rights battle Christians have lost.

    I agree this is true of conservatives in the public square; but what I wrote used a different context. I’m skeptical these particular churches will be capable of treating gays equally in their churches when the younger generations become middle-aged to old. Perhaps a few generations after that, but I think there’s a chance these churches will keep their discrimination policies against gays in place and therefore continue to abuse gay children as they abuse them now.

  19. Michael Heath says

    hunter writes:

    Has anyone noticed how the country clerks, which are really the states’ boots on the ground in these cases, are more than willing to extend their offices’ hours and open on weekends to accommodate gay couples after these decisions are handed down?

    Only a handful of counties accomodated this new ruling last weekend. The most prominently reported was Washetenaw and Ingham counties. The former is where the Univ. of MI is located; the latter, Michigan State Univ., i.e., the two biggest liberal universities.

  20. says

    It’s worth noting that Washtenaw and Ingham were also the only counties in Michigan that voted down the anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004.

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