DETROIT (AP) -

A federal judge stunned the courtroom Wednesday by saying he'll hold a trial before deciding whether to overturn Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said he won't make a decision without hearing testimony from experts on whether there's a legitimate state interest in banning gay marriage. He scheduled a trial for Feb. 25.

"I wish I could give you a definitive ruling. ... There are fact issues that have to be decided," Friedman said.

Friedman clearly caught the lawyers off guard. They had agreed to have him decide the issue on arguments and briefs. There was a groan in a nearby room where dozens of people were watching a video feed.

Two Detroit-area nurses in a lesbian relationship, Jayne Rowse, 49, and April DeBoer, 42, wanted to adopt each other's children, not rewrite Michigan law. But their lawsuit took an extraordinary turn a year ago when Friedman suggested they refile it to challenge the gay marriage ban.

In doing so, they argued the state's constitutional amendment violates the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

A state constitutional amendment declaring marriage as between a man and a woman was approved by 59 percent of Michigan voters in 2004.

More than 100 people were in the courtroom Wednesday, and dozens more watched a video feed across the hallway. Several dozen people in favor of gay marriage also rallied outside of the courthouse.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.

"Here and now, as a matter of constitutional law as well as of social policy, the time for ... dehumanization is past," the Hazel Park couple's lawyers said in a court filing ahead of Wednesday's hearing. Rowse and DeBoer have lived together for about eight years.

But Michigan's attorney general highlighted the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition that states do have authority to regulate marriage.

"Defining marriage as between one man and one woman furthers Michigan's legitimate interests in attempting to provide the optimal family setting for its children," the AG's office said in a court filing.

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Author: ED WHITE, Associated Press

Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap.