The ban against same-sex marriage in Michigan was upheld in a decision announced by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Thursday afternoon, reversing a March decision from the district court.
The three-member panel of judges in the case, who first heard oral arguments from both sides in August, along with five other cases from the region, voted 2-1 to uphold the ban. This decision is the first from a circuit court to uphold a ban on same-sex marriage following multiple decisions nationwide that have made same-sex marriage legal in 35 states.
Thursday’s decision also encompassed rulings against more narrow measures surrounding the recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of Michigan and of death and birth certificate rights for same-sex couples, both stemming from cases brought by the other states in the Sixth Circuit.
The majority opinion in the case, written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, framed the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage as an inevitability, but upheld the ban based on one key issue: whether the decision on the legalization of same-sex marriage should be made by the courts.
“Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us — just two of us in truth — to make such a vital policy call for the 32 million citizens who live within the four States of the Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee,” Sutton wrote.
Later in the decision, he wrote that same-sex marriage proponents have not clearly justified the case to make the definition of marriage — and the subsequent rights and recognition attached to that definition — a constitutional issue.
Michigan’s case, DeBoer v. Snyder, was initially brought by Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse because they were unable to jointly adopt their children. Several months after the initial case was brought, a judge offered them the option of broadening it to an overall challenge of Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.
In an interview Thursday evening, Jay Kaplan, project staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Rights Project, said the decision didn’t take into account the function of the courts as a check on the power of the legislative branch.
The ACLU stated earlier in the afternoon that they would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
“We rely on the courts because we know we can’t rely on the will of the majority always to do the right or the fair thing, and that’s one of the functions of our courts,” Kaplan said. “Judge Sutton, in his opinion, seems to have totally lost sight of that.”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R), who has argued in favor of the ban and brought the appeal to the Sixth Circuit against the district court’s ruling, applauded the decision and said he looked forward to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the issue.
“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has ruled, and Michigan’s constitution remains in full effect,” Schuette said. “As I have stated repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on this issue. The sooner they rule, the better, for Michigan and the country.”
Last year, the Supreme Court chose to rule in favor of federal recognition for same-sex couples in a variety of areas, striking down aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act. Earlier this year, the Court declined to hear appeals to cases striking down same-sex marriage bans, but was expected to step in should a circuit court uphold the ban.
In Ann Arbor, members of the LGBTQ community and allies gathered Thursday night to discuss the decision at the Jim Toy Community Center, a Washtenaw County organization that is a self-described local resource for LGBTQ individuals and their allies. Sandi Smith, president of the center, said in an interview after the event Thursday evening that the local community was still exploring its options.
“Right now the people are gathering; they are a little bit in emotional shock,” she said. “I think there’s some consolation happening, and we’ve got some people that are trying to go through the opinions that were published … and trying to make sense of it.”
Smith added that along with an appeal, the group was also looking into launching a campaign to place a proposal related to the legalization of same-sex marriage on the 2016 ballot.
Another case in the state, stemming from the same-sex marriage ban concerning the legality of the marriages of the almost 300 couples who married in the 24-hour period between the district court’s decision to strike down the ban and the issuing of an emergency stay on the decision, as requested by Schuette, is still pending in the courts. A preliminary hearing for the case was held in August.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder reaffirmed his position on the legality of the marriages by following the language in the state constitution. He wrote that he “took an oath to support and defend our state constitution, without exceptions.”
Public Policy junior Nick Rinehart, chair of Central Student Government’s LGBT*Q Commission, said the lack of progression of the marriage equality movement in Michigan was disappointing, especially for University students considering their options in the state.
“It certainly doesn’t help the state of Michigan’s case in the circumstance when LGBT students or allies see that their state is not willing to stand up for all of its citizens,” he said. “It’s definitely discouraging for a lot of people. I know that it’s not making me want to stay in Michigan … it’s not exactly helping the state’s case here.”
Daily Staff Reporter Amabel Karoub contributed to this report.