During the course of the entire trial, there will be many experts taking the stand before Judge Bernard Friedman of the United States District Court, testifying both for and against marriage equality and the right for same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. The first few days of the much-anticipated DeBoer trial started out strong in favor of the quality, competence and power of LGBT families.
In their opening arguments, attorneys for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse argued that studies show that same-sex parents are just as capable and successful in raising children as opposite-sex parents and that the laws preventing this violate the civil rights of these families. The first expert witness, Dr. David Brodzinsky, was called to the stand to support this argument.
Dr. Brodzinsky's research focuses on the psychological issues in gay and lesbian parenting and adopting, among other childhood and family issues. Dr. Brodzinsky has provided expert testimony in two related cases, Baehr v. Miike (1993) and Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services (2004), in Hawaii and Florida respectively.
Based on his research, Dr. Brodzinsky presented a compelling argument that same-sex couples are more than capable of raising happy, healthy children. "Moms and dads are important. They're important as parents, though. They're not important as males or females," he said.
After Dr. Brodzinsky concluded his testimony, he was replaced on the stand by Michael Rosenfeld, a professor of sociology at Stanford University.
Professor Rosenfeld attacked the logic of excluding LGBT couples from jointly adopting on the premise that they provide an inferior home than do heterosexual couples, comparing that logic to excluding poor parents or people without college degrees or city dwellers from raising children.
On day two of the DeBoer trial, attorneys for the state finished its cross examination of Michael Rosenfeld. The State is defending Michigan's marriage ban and some judge's interpretation of adoption law that bars same-sex couples from adopting.
The State attacked the credibility of Professor Rosenfeld's studies, as well as his criticisms of studies which the State plans on using later in the trial.
After cross-examination, attorneys for the plaintiffs called University of Michigan law professor Vivek Sankaran to the stand. Professor Sankaran founded the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which provides legal advocacy and social work services to low-income families to prevent the unnecessary placement and prolonged stay of children in foster care.
Professor Sankaran testified that without the ability of LGBT couples to jointly adopt, there is no certainty that the family would remain intact in the event of a tragedy. If the legal parent died, the other parent would have no legal claim to custody of the children.
Professor Sankaran testified that, although LGBT families could use their wills to designate guardianship of children after a death, there was no legal certainty that the guardianship would be upheld by the court.
Sankaran also testified that he believes DeBoer and Rowse "have done a tremendous job" parenting their three children. After only a brief cross-examination by the State's attorneys, the trial adjourned for the day.
Testimony from experts opposing same-sex marriage and joint adoption will begin Monday, but already attorneys and experts are pointing out major flaws with the research conducted by the State's upcoming experts.
Next week, Leslie Cooper, the senior staff attorney of the LGBT and AIDS Project at the National ACLU office will cross-examine one of the State's experts, Mark Regnerus. We anticipate that she will grill Regnerus on the reliability and validity of studies that claim to show LGBT families are unstable when the State presents its witnesses.
To talk about the sweeping changes we've seen in the last decade and look at some upcoming challenges, we're talking about Marriage Matters this month. This series of blogs will range from the history of the fight for LGBT rights in Michigan to an in-depth look at the upcoming DeBoer case, which could impact marriage equality in Michigan when heard later this month.