Children Key to Challenge of Michigan's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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A Michigan federal court is embroiled in the legalities of a state ban on same-sex marriage. At the heart of that debate are three children: 3-year-olds Ryanne and Jacob and 4-year-old Nolan, says Michigan Radio. The children's parents, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a lesbian couple living in the metro Detroit burb of Hazel Park, Michigan, would like to legally adopt each other's kids. Marriage would mean they could do that.

Adoption Issues

With the 2004 Michigan Marriage Amendment, state law currently says heterosexual married couples may adopt but bans same-sex couple adoptions. According to the Associated Press, the state defends its rationale, saying it's in the best interests of both state and children for kids to be raised by parents in opposite-sex marriages. Individuals may also adopt children. All three of Rowse and DeBoer's children were adopted by them individually. They just can't adopt together.

DeBoer/Rowse Case

Rowse and DeBoer, both Detroit-area nurses, say that challenging the same-sex marriage ban was never their plan. They've been together for 13 years and live as a married couple. They'd like to make it a legal marriage at some point, but what's pushed the issue is their concern for their kids. Jacob came into their home as a foster child, and the couple was able to share legal guardianship as foster parents. Things got tricky when they decided to adopt him, just as they did when they adopted their other two children. DeBoer and Rowse had to choose who would be the legal parent. They chose Rowse, who is Nolan's legal mother, which meant DeBoer gave up any legal parental rights.

"I lose the right to make medical decisions for my boys," DeBoer told Michigan Radio. "I can't enroll my boys in school. I am on an emergency card at school -- I am listed as just an emergency contact person. I am not a parent. I am nothing."

DeBoer would have to petition the court to adopt the two boys if something should happen to Rowse. Likewise, says Bloomberg Business Week, Rowse can't co-adopt Ryanne with DeBoer, either.

Even if their wills contained instructions that the other should become the legal parent of their children if Rowse or DeBoer died, the children could be separated or taken away. "It could be contested, just like anything in a will. If one of my family members said, 'I want the kids,' a judge could say, 'This is family. She's not,'" explained Rowse to the Associated Press in reference to DeBoer.

Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuit

Along with adoption rights, the Michigan Marriage Amendment denies same-sex couples other rights, like insurance benefits and inheritance rights. Rowse and DeBoer sued the State of Michigan in the person of Gov. Rick Snyder in federal court. The couple contends that Michigan's constitutional amendment, passed by popular vote in 2004, conflicts with the U.S. Constitution. The couple's attorney, Carole Stanyar, argued before U.S District Court Judge Bernard Friedman late last week that as a fundamental constitutional right, marriage should not be subject to popular vote. Attorney for the state Joseph Potchen told the judge that the Michigan amendment violates neither equal protection nor due process, because sexual orientation isn't a protected right.

DeBoer v. Snyder is being tried in Detroit. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Friedman has said that he won't rule on the case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on California's same-sex marriage ban and the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month on both cases.

A native of Michigan, Marilisa Sachteleben writes about people, places, and events in her state's most pivotal city of Detroit.

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