Civil and Human Rights

De Boer v. Snyder

DeBoer v. Snyder was a federal-court challenge to Michigan laws that prohibited the state from recognizing as a marriage any union other than that between a man and a woman.

Case Summary

On January 23, 2012, plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, both of whom have individually adopted children, filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Michigan challenging the state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples. Michigan law restricted second-parent adoption to married couples, a Catch-22 for same-sex couples, since the state excluded them from marriage. At the invitation of District Court Judge Bernard Friedman, the plaintiffs amended their Complaint to challenge the “underlying issue” of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Friedman heard argument on March 7, 2013, but delayed ruling until after the Supreme Court’s decisions in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Following further oral argument and a trial, Judge Friedman on March 21, 2014 ruled that Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional and violated the plaintiffs’ right to the equal protection of the law. The state appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which stayed Judge Friedman’s ruling pending appeal.

On June 16, 2014, Constitutional Accountability Center and the Cato Institute jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief in DeBoer, urging the court of appeals to uphold the lower court’s decision. Our brief demonstrated that the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee equality under the law and require equality of rights for all classes of persons and groups, including gay men and lesbians. The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment recognized the right to marry as a basic civil right of all persons. As our brief demonstrated, the Amendment’s sweeping guarantee of equality unambiguously applied to the plaintiffs in DeBoer, and prohibited the discriminatory marriage laws at issue in this case.

DeBoer was one of three cases before the Sixth Circuit involving marriage equality in which CAC filed an amicus curiae brief. The others were Bourke v. Beshear and Tanco v. Haslam. On November 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit handed down an opinion authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton (and joined by Judge Deborah Cook) reversing the rulings of the courts below; Judge Martha Daughtrey dissented. With this decision, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals since United States v. Windsor to uphold state laws denying marriage equality to same-sex couples and created a split among the circuit courts of appeals. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on November 14th, which was granted on January 16, 2015. In DeBoer – and its companion cases Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco, and Bourke – the Supreme Court will resolve two questions, whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license the marriages of same-sex couples, and whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples legally entered into in other states.

On March 6, 2015, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the consolidated cases, urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. For more information about the consolidated cases and CAC’s involvement, please visit our Supreme Court case page for Obergefell, et al.

Case Timeline

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