Federal court orders state to recognize 300 same-sex marriages

By Shoham Geva, Daily News Editor
Published January 15, 2015

In a decision announced Thursday morning, a U.S District Court ruled that the state is required to recognize 300 same-sex marriages performed in Michigan last year.

In the ruling on the case, Caspar v. Snyder, Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote that once marriages have occurred, the state cannot retract them under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

“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, ” the ruling read. “In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder.”

If the state does not appeal the decision in the next 21 days, the marriages will become valid next month.

The marriages in question were performed during the day-long interim period between a March district court decision to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in DeBoer v. Snyder and the granting of a stay on that decision pending an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court.

In a departure from decisions in favor of same-sex marriage legalization across the country, the circuit court has since reversed the district’s court ruling, holding that the state’s ban, as well as several similar measures in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, was constitutionally valid.

Plaintiffs in the case have since asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. Justices heard the petition last week, but have yet to make a decision on whether they will take up the case.

As part of his ruling, Goldsmith also declined to issue a stay on the recognition of the marriages tied to the petition before the Supreme Court, which would have halted the ruling from coming into effect until the Supreme Court acted on the petition.

In a statement Thursday morning, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who requested the stay on the marriages and is litigating the case to protect the state’s ban, reiterated previous calls for the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

“We are reviewing Judge Goldsmith’s decision, but 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.

In contrast to Schuette, the plaintiffs in the case, represented by the ACLU, have taken the position that a decision on the Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban would not impact the recognition of the marriages.

Law Prof. Julian Mortenson, who argued part of the case as a cooperating attorney, said in an interview Thursday afternoon that though a Supreme Court decision on the same-sex marriage bans would set precedent, the decision handed down in this case was not particularly groundbreaking.

“The decision that came out today is grounded in — as the district court judge found — literally centuries of Anglo-American precedent recognizing that when people have validly been married according to the laws of the jurisdiction they live in, they are entitled to remain married," he said. "So in that sense it is a completely unexceptional, well-reasoned, thoughtful, careful, scrupulous application of that long-standing grounded principle of Anglo-American law to the particular facts here. I mean, it’s certainly enormously significant for our clients.”

Also in an interview Thursday afternoon, Jay Kaplan, staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT project, said the key distinction in Caspar v. Snyder was that it focused on the right of couples to stay married, not whether same-sex couples can get married.

“The DeBoer case, though the incredibly important case that it is, is about the right of same-sex couples to get married,” Kaplan said. “In this case, our couples are married. They were legally married in Michigan in accordance with Michigan law on March 22nd of 2014. And our case is about the right to stay married because the state, in saying that these marriages are legal but we’re not recognizing these marriages, are in essence invalidating these marriages. They can’t constitutionally do that. And the judge agreed with us.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how the state will proceed with the ruling. However, following the Sixth Circuit’s decision in November, Snyder released a statement stating that he does not see the marriages as valid under the state constitution.

“The Court of Appeals decision does not allow for state benefits of marriage for those same-sex couples in accordance with our state constitution,” the November statement read. “That decision only can be changed if today’s Appeals Court ruling is overturned.”

This is a developing story.

This story has been updated to include comments from the plaintiff’s attorneys and additional context from the ruling.