Federal judge says Michigan must recognize 300 same-sex marriages

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VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
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A federal judge ruled today that Michigan must recognize roughly 300 same-sex marriages performed shortly after the state's gay marriage ban was overturned last March.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan after the state said it would not recognize the marriages performed one day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman shot down Michigan's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Following Friedman's decision, four local county clerks opened their offices on a Saturday, waived the state's traditional three-day waiting period for marriages, and immediately began issuing licenses. But that window of opportunity was closed within 24 hours, when Friedman's decision was halted after a request by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to stay the judge's ruling was granted — a decision that essentially put those 300 couples in marriage limbo.

In a lengthy 47-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith said that, although Friedman's decision has now been overturned on appeal, those 300 couples have legal marriages in the state of Michigan.

"Even though the court decision that required Michigan to allow same-sex couples to marry has now been reversed on appeal, the same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief period when such marriages were authorized acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest  — a constitutional hurdle that the defense does not even attempt to surmount," Goldsmith wrote.

In a statement released shortly after Goldsmith's opinion was issued, Schuette said his office was reviewing the judge's decision.

"[B]ut as I have said repeatedly, the sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue, the better it will be for Michigan and America," Schuette said.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as early as this week if it will consider a case brought by a lesbian couple in Hazel Park who initially brought the challenge to Michigan's same-sex marriage ban before Judge Friedman. Schuette appealed Friedman's ruling to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the judge's decision and upheld the ban. In a 2-1 decision, the appellate panel said voters have the right to to codify bans on same-sex marriage. 

But, at the very least, today, the 300 marriages that took place here are "cherished and valid—same as any other—and it's only right that the courts and our country recognize as much," said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT project, in a statement.

“All these couples have ever asked is that they be able to love and protect their families without being discriminated against," Kaplan said. "With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams.”



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