Lawyers, advocates and legislatures continue to fight for marriage equality months after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Last Thursday, the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a request to force the state to recognize over 300 marriages preformed before the stay ordered by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) on Judge Friedman’s ruling.
In their brief for the case, Caspar v. Snyder, the ACLU said they are defending the same-sex couples that married in the time between the ruling and the stay, asking Michigan to recognize their marriages as legal.
“At the heart of this case is the fundamental right of lawfully married couples to enjoy the benefits of marriage,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project, in a press release. “The state cannot strip a married couple of recognition after it issues a valid marriage license.”
Kaplan, as well as five other ACLU attorneys and two ACLU cooperating attorneys, are representing the same-sex couples in the case.
In January 2012, Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse sued the state of Michigan for denying them the right to jointly adopt their children because the couple could not legally marry. Though the case began as a matter of changing the state adoption policies, the lawsuit evolved into a question of whether or not same-sex marriage is legal in Michigan.
Judge Friedman struck down the Michigan Marriage Act this March, voted for by a 58 percent majority through a ballot initiative. Friedman declared the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’…state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people,” he wrote in his 31-page ruling.
After Schuette requested a stay on the ruling, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the stay by a 2-1 majority on March 24, 2014.
Though the federal government announced it would recognize the hundreds of marriages made between the time of Friedman’s ruling and the stay, the state government did not.
Law Prof. Julian Mortenson, who is currently working with the ACLU as a cooperating attorney in Casper v. Snyder, said when these marriages occurred, it was unequivocally legal for the couples to wed. Therefore, no matter what happens after they occurred, the state does not have the constitutional authority to take away these couples’ marriages.
Though it is difficult to find constitutionality with same-sex marriage bans, the future of same-sex marriage in Michigan and in the nation is still uncertain. However, Mortenson said he firmly believes in the legality of the ACLU’s argument in Caspar v. Snyder, saying the law does not allow anyone to take away the rights of people who married validly.
“We believe, quite strongly, that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional and specifically, regardless of whether they are unconstitutional, once valid marriage have been entered into, they can’t be taken away,” Mortenson said.