In a court filing Friday, the state modified its stance on the status of the 300 same-sex marriages performed in Michigan in March by labeling them invalid. This move represents a major shift in Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s policies concerning same-sex marriage.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wrote in a filing, which also bore Snyder’s name, that the ruling that previously permitted these marriages has now been reversed by a higher court. Thus, the marriages should not have occurred and couples’ requests for benefits cannot be fulfilled.
The marriages, which took place after a U.S. District Court ruled against the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, are currently under a stay, meaning that they have not yet been legally recognized. Fighting against this stay is the ACLU, who filed a lawsuit against Snyder and the state on behalf of the same-sex couples who claim they deserve legal protection equal to that of heterosexual couples.
Directly following the District Court decision, Schuette placed a stay on the district court ruling after these marriages took place. Snyder stated in March that he considered the marriages valid but would not give benefits to the couples at the state level because of the then-pending appeal of the court’s decision.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against same-sex marriage last week.
In the aftermath of the 6th Circuit’s decision to uphold the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Snyder said in a statement that the marriages were legally valid but that they are couples ineligible for state benefits.
“As I have said throughout this process, I will respect the court’s decision as it examines the legality of same-sex marriage,” the statement read.
However, in papers filed Friday on a separate case concerning the March marriages, in which both the governor and three other state officials were named defendants, state lawyers took the stance that the marriages are no longer valid because of the higher court’s decision.
“From a legal standpoint, because the marriages rested solely on the district court’s erroneous decision, which has now been reversed, it is as if the marriages never existed, and Plaintiffs’ requests for benefits attendant to a legal marriage must be denied,” the filing stated.
In a September interview, before the recent court proceedings and while the same-sex marriage case was still on appeal to a higher court, Law Prof. Julian Mortenson, an attorney for eight same-sex couples married in March who are challenging the state’s stance on recognition, said he did not think a decision in favor of the ban would impact the case.
“There’s just a thousand and one uncertainties to the possible impact of the 6th Circuit decision on our case,” Mortenson said in September. “The one thing that’s certain — I should be clear, this is a contested point in the litigation, from my perspective this is clear — that were the 6th Circuit to rule the other way, and to say there’s no right to enter into marriage if you’re a same-sex couple, that absolutely would not have any bearing on the validity of our clients. Even if that’s the starting point, once you are married, once you have rights vested in an existing marriage, they can’t take it away from you.”
Specifically concerning the March marriages, lawyers for the plaintiffs have until Nov. 22 to file a response to the state. Michigan’s broader case regarding the ban on same-sex marriage, or one from a different region of the United States concerning the same issue, is expected to be picked up by the Supreme Court later this year.