Wayne Law professors hail judge's ruling in same-sex marriage case

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 U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, and among those celebrating are various faculty members from the Wayne State University Law School.


Distinguished Professor Robert Sedler, considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on constitutional law, was a consultant to the attorneys who brought the case that led to the judge’s decision today, Friday, March 21.

Sedler praised Friedman’s actions: “The decision is a monumental victory for marriage equality. Marriage is a legal relationship based on love and commitment. The decision means that gay and lesbian couples like April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse now have the right to enter into the legal relationship of marriage and to obtain all the legal benefits that come from that relationship, such as the right to become the legal parents of all of the children that they are parenting together. Gay and lesbian couples are no longer second-class citizens in Michigan.”

The case, DeBoer et al v Snyder, began in 2012, when Hazel Park residents DeBoer and Rowse challenged the state’s voter-approved 2004 state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. The women hope to marry legally so they can have joint custody of their three adopted children. Michigan law had allowed single people to adopt but not an unmarried couple, so the women’s children were limited to one parent unless they could legally wed.

Wayne Law Dean Jocelyn Benson, an expert on civil rights law, hailed Friedman’s decision.

“At Wayne Law, every day we teach our students to be advocates for justice. We are proud that two of our alumni, one of our distinguished professors and one of our adjunct professors were part of the legal teams helping to bring marriage equality to Michigan,” Benson said. “Today will be remembered as a milestone in the fight to end discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Attorney Dana Nessel, a 1994 Wayne Law alumna, and attorney Carole Stanyar, represented DeBoer and Rowse in the case. Like Sedler, Wayne Law Adjunct Professor Kenneth Mogill, a partner with Mogill Posner & Cohen, was a consultant on the case. Attorney Michael Pitt, a 1974 Wayne Law alumnus and managing partner of Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers, represented Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown in the case.

Also praising Friedman’s decision was Professor Peter Hammer, director of Wayne Law’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.

“This is an important day where equal protection under the law has been applied to really provide equal protection under the law,” Hammer said. “This decision treats all committed relationships with the dignity and respect they deserve. It is a decision that will be long remembered in Michigan and throughout the nation.”

Sedler became a consultant on the case when Nessel and Stanyar sought his help because of his worldwide reputation and because of a 2004 essay (50 Wayne Law Review 835) he wrote, “The Constitution Should Protect the Right to Same-Sex Marriage.”

Today, Sedler remarked on the progress made in recent years.

“Constitutional law develops in a line of growth. In a series of decisions going back to 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court has held unconstitutional – violative of the Equal Protection Clause – laws that discriminate against gay and lesbian persons,” Sedler said. “The latest decision last June held unconstitutional a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages that were legal in the state where the couple lived. The court said that the government had no constitutionally valid reason for discriminating against those same-sex marriages by denying them the benefits it gave other marriages.

“Judge Friedman invoked that decision and held that Michigan had no constitutionally valid reason for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples by denying them the right to enter into the legal relationship of marriage.”
Sedler noted that federal judges had recently struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas. However, while these judges based their decisions solely on constitutional doctrine, Fried­man held an extensive evidentiary hearing and made very significant factual findings.

Friedman found that traditional marriage had evolved from an institution with a dominant husband and a subordinate wife and separate roles in the marriage relationship to an institution in which both spouses are equal and can choose their own roles, Sedler said.

“He also found that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying caused serious legal, financial and emotional harms to them and their children, and that, in accordance with the great weight of social science evidence, there were no differences in outcomes for children raised by same-sex parents and children raised by opposite-sex parents.”

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