Advocacy groups nationwide said there was potential for several different legal outcomes following a U.S. Supreme Court announcement Friday that the justices would take up a case challenging the legality of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.
The Supreme Court has reviewed same-sex marriage issues on two separate occasions in the past few years. In 2013, Hollingsworth v. Perry, dealt with the legality of California’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriage in the state.
That same year, United States v. Windsor, considered the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
In Hollingsworth, the court sent the case back to the district court on a jurisdictional issue, which in that case ultimately legalized same-sex marriage in California but did not provide an overall ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage as many advocates had hoped it would.
In United States v. Windsor, the court found that portions of DOMA were unconstitutional, granting some federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Rights Project, said he didn’t anticipate an outcome similar to Hollingsworth. Rather, he said he expected a decision from the court defining the overall legality of same-sex marriage in the U.S.
“I don’t think that’s going to be the same kind of case,” Kaplan said. “There were just a handful of states at the time that allowed same-sex couples to get married. But look how the landscape has changed. We have 36 states, plus the District of Columbia. Seventy percent of all same-sex couples live in a state where they can get married. The landscape has changed so much. I do not believe that they took this case up, or they had the votes to take it up, not to address the issue of marriage equality.”
However, Chris Gacek, senior fellow at the Family Research Center, said based on previous cases like Proposition 8, the FRC anticipates an outcome ruling that the states have the power to determine the legality of same-sex marriage.
“We think what the court should do here is allow the states to pull to their own determination as to marriage policy,” Gacek said. “In the long-run, these things will sort themselves out.”
Gacek pointed to precedent both from the Proposition 8 case, as well as the Windsor case.
“A substantial part of the reasoning had to do with saying that the proper legislative jurisdiction for determining marriage policy was in the states,” Gacek said. “That’s what we think the court was saying … we think that one of these sort of Roe v. Wade constitutional decisions would be very bad for the country.”
The court’s decision also may have the potential to affect another case in Michigan.
Thursday, a district court ruled that the state was obligated to recognize 300 same-sex marriages performed during the 24-hour period before a stay was placed on a ruling overturning Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. The marriages were placed in legal uncertainty following the stay and subsequent Sixth Circuit Court decision to uphold the ban, reversing the earlier decision.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in that case, Caspar v. Snyder, said Thursday they don’t believe a Supreme Court decision on the bans should have any impact on the legality of their clients’ marriages, a position that Thursday’s ruling also referenced.
“That issue is not the issue in our case,” it said. “We deal only with efforts by Michigan officials to abrogate a marital status that was lawfully acquired under Michigan law.”
Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has previously stated that he believes the marriages are valid, but will not offer state-level benefits or recognition to the couples unless the Sixth Circuit Court decision is reversed.
His office did not respond to a request for comment on that case Thursday, but in a statement Friday reacting to the Supreme Court decision, Snyder said he looked forward to that court’s decision on the case.
“It’s important for the same-sex marriage question to be resolved once and for all at the highest level,” Snyder said. “I will respect the decision of the court on an issue that has stirred passionate discussion and hope that Michiganders, and others across our country, can come together as we move forward.”