Michigan's nearly decade-old ban on gay marriage is going to trial Tuesday, with two weeks set aside for testimony from experts about whether there's a legitimate state interest in restricting marriage to a man and a woman.
Same-sex couples poised for a favorable ruling last fall had lined up for marriage licenses across Michigan, only to be stunned when U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said he wanted to hold a trial. Since then, judges in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia have struck down bans on gay marriage. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia now allow it.
In Michigan, two Detroit-area nurses are challenging the state's ban, which was approved by 59 percent of voters in 2004. They sued in 2012 to try to overturn a law that bars them from adopting each other's children, but the case was expanded at Friedman's invitation to include same-sex marriage.
"If marriage is a fundamental right, then logic and emerging Supreme Court precedent dictate that the legitimacy of two adults' love for one another is the same in the eyes of the law regardless of sexual orientation," attorneys for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse said in a court filing last fall.
They argue that Michigan's constitutional amendment violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, which forbids states from treating people differently under the law.
The state attorney general's office, meanwhile, is defending the 2004 election result.
"Their attempt to circumvent the legislative process and disrupt the will of the people of the state of Michigan must be rejected," the state said.
On Monday, more than 30 pastors from Baptist churches and conservative Christian congregations around Michigan held a news conference to declare their support for the ban. They said family stability and the Bible demand marriage only between a man and a woman.
"The fight is on," said the Rev. Roland Caldwell of Burnette Inspirational Ministries in Detroit. "Don't tell me I can go to the polls and then the next day tell me I don't know what I'm doing."
One of the state's key witnesses will be Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas. In 2012, he published a study in an academic journal, saying young adults with a parent who had a same-sex relationship were more likely to experience unemployment and other social woes. He later acknowledged that his study didn't look at children raised by stable same-sex couples.
Another witness is scholar Sherif Girgis, author of a 2012 book, "What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense." Attorneys for DeBoer and Rowse are asking the judge to block their testimony as irrelevant.
Friedman recently said "it doesn't look good" for Girgis, but he won't make a decision on any witnesses until they're called at trial.