Same-Sex Parenting Goes On Trial In Detroit

Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage goes on trial today in Detroit, and Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta is there. A lesbian couple wants to settle the doubts over same-sex parenting.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now let's turn to a legal question playing out in a federal courtroom in Detroit. That's where a lesbian couple is challenging Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. Jayne Rouse and April DeBoer are raising three special needs children. They women say they want to get married so they can jointly adopt the children.

Here's April DeBoer as she was heading into the courthouse this morning.

APRIL DEBOER: Nothing says family like the marriage license that says that we are legally a family. And that's what we're hoping for and we think we're going to get.

BLOCK: Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta was in the courtroom for today's opening statements, and he joins me now. And, Rick, let's start with some background, how did this case begin?

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Well, it began as a lawsuit to challenge Michigan's adoption law that does not allow unmarried couples, two individuals, to adopt children together. And in 2004, since Michigan was one of the states that adopted a same-sex marriage ban - this is in the state's constitution - they can't get married and adopt children. So the federal judge in this case, last summer, said well, let's open this up and instead of just making it an adoption case, let's make it about Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage.

BLOCK: Now, since then, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. We've seen five other states do away with their bans on same-sex marriage since last summer. How have those decision factored into this court case in Michigan?

PLUTA: Well, the plaintiffs in this case say that Michigan's marriage amendment is, in fact, a lot like DOMA and it ought to meet the same fate. But a lot of this, too, is about research that both sides have used to defend their positions, which means that this case isn't just about gay marriage. It is actually about same-sex parenting.

BLOCK: Well, what kind of research are they using to try to bolster their case, each side?

PLUTA: Well, the attorneys for April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse say that they want to use this trial to challenge a lot of this research, a lot of it is by - it's very controversial, very questioned in the academic world. And it says that children raised by gay parents actually fare worse in a lot of key indicators than children raised in heterosexual households by their married biological parents. And that is supposed to support the State of Michigan's position that a male-female parenting team is, quote, "optimal," unquote, for kids. But DeBoer and Rouse have their own experts to say that most of that is just junk science that was conducted to reach that particular result.

BLOCK: Now, Rick, you mentioned that this all started out as an adoption case. How has that become a factor in the testimony so far?

PLUTA: Well, a lot of the testimony today, on the first day, dealt with adoption, parenting and same-sex couples. And, for example, we heard that same-sex couples are more likely to adopt special needs kids, just like Jayne Rouse and April DeBoer did. They also say that marriage rights would create a bigger pool of adoptive parents, that it would actually shrink the line of kids who waiting to be adopted. And these parents would be in a better position financially, in terms of family stability, to adopt including hard to adopt kids if Michigan were to actually allow same-sex marriages.

BLOCK: So, Rick, the trial is supposed to take about two weeks, but there's a broader conversation in Michigan, right, about same-sex marriage over all?

PLUTA: Though - well, I mean we've got a lot of conversations about what we're going to do as far as LGBT rights in state law, that there's this question about adoption. It's really permeating a lot of the conversation here. The state's position is this research that we've been talking about means that all of this is unsettled. There's nothing conclusive on same-sex parenting. And all of this is just too new. So they say Michigan voters adopted this amendment 10 years ago, and they should be allowed a chance to do it again.

BLOCK: OK. Rick Pluta, the capital bureau for the Michigan Public Radio Network. Rick, thanks a lot.

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