Michigan Officials: Marriage Inequality Is Important To ‘Regulate Sexual Relationships’

Michigan state officials continue to defend the state’s laws banning same-sex marriage and adoption to prevent a lesbian couple from obtaining joint legal protections for the three children they are raising together. In the latest filing, attorneys for the state argue that limiting marriage to heterosexual unions is important to “regulate sexual relationships” between men and women:

One of the paramount purposes of marriage in Michigan — and at least 37 other states that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman — is, and has always been, to regulate sexual relationships between men and women so that the unique procreative capacity of such relationships benefits rather than harms society. The understanding of marriage as a union of man and woman, uniquely involving the rearing of children born of their union, is age-old, universal, and enduring. As illustrated by a plethora of research, social scientists have consistently recognized the essential connection between marriage and responsible procreation and childrearing.

Before 2004, when the Massachusetts courts decided to redefine marriage to include same-sex relationships, it was commonly understood that the institution of marriage owed its very existence to society’s vital interest in responsible procreation and childrearing. Undoubtedly, that is why the Supreme Court has long recognizedmarriage as “fundamental to our very existence and survival.”

While the argument of “responsible procreation” has been used by opponents of marriage equality many times before — to no avail — its description here is particularly problematic. By suggesting that the state has an interest in “regulating sexual relationships,” this argument echoes the defenders of anti-sodomy laws, all of which were overturned by the 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas.


Laws banning same-sex marriage provide no oversight whatsoever of any sexual relationship, in wedlock or otherwise. While marriage no doubt benefits the children some sexual relationships may produce, it also benefits the children of couples who have their children through other means. This includes same-sex couples, such as April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who filed this suit. Michigan’s laws do not ban them from having a sexual relationship, nor does it ban them from raising children, it simply discriminates against their ability to obtain legal protections as a full family.

What Michigan’s attorneys are trying to prove is that there is a “rational basis” for the laws — namely, that “an opposite-sex definition of marriage furthers State interests that would not be furthered, or furthered to the same degree, by allowing same-sex couples to marry.” The implication is that allowing same-sex couples to also marry would limit the benefits opposite-sex couples and children throughout the state could obtain from marriage. That is quite evidently untrue.

(HT: Kathleen Perrin.)