Federal Judge: State of Michigan Must Recognize Legal Marriages of 300 Same-Sex Couples

January 15, 2015

DETROIT – In a victory for marriage equality, a federal judge today ruled that the state of Michigan must recognize the legal marriages of 300 same-sex couples wed last spring in the state.

A lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of eight couples who wed immediately after a federal decision struck down the state’s ban on marriage equality and before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision against the ban.

“These marriages are cherished and valid—same as any other—and it’s only right that the courts and our country recognize as much,” explained Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project. “All these couples have ever asked is that they be able to love and protect their families without being discriminated against. With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams.”

In granting the ACLU of Michigan’s motion for a preliminary injunction, Judge Mark Goldsmith said the state likely violated the couples’ due process and equal protection rights by refusing to recognize the marriages. The judge put the injunction on hold for 21 days, meaning this decision won’t take immediate effect.

According to the Judge Goldmith’s opinion: “In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder… Michigan’s nonrecognition policy divests Plaintiffs of an essential human dimension in their lives — the legally recognized bond of committed intimacy in a marriage that was solemnized and recognized as valid by the challenging state — the loss of which unquestionably wounds them deeply.”

At the time these couples got married, the marriage ban in Michigan had been struck down in the DeBoer ruling, and it was legal under Michigan law for them to wed. Although the Sixth Circuit subsequently reversed the favorable DeBoer ruling and Supreme Court review is now being sought in that case, the ACLU lawsuit seeks permanent recognition of the 300 marriages no matter what happens in the DeBoer case. The ACLU contends, and the court agreed, that the state cannot “undo” these legal marriages after they have taken place.

“Governor Snyder has acknowledged that these couples were legally married, but he is refusing to give these marriages the legal recognition that every other legally married couple in Michigan enjoys,” said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “When a loving couple marries under the laws of their state, it is wrong and unconstitutional for that state to essentially divorce that couple after the fact.”

“Being legally married and receiving the benefits and protections of marriage are not, and cannot be, mutually exclusive,” said the lead plaintiff in the Michigan case, Glenna DeJong, who married longtime partner Marsha Caspar in the spring. “Yet the couples married on March 22nd were caught in a paradox –we were married and we were not.

“It’s stressful having to work so hard for something that seems so simple. Other married couples don’t have to jump through these hoops and become activists just to be treated equally. We don’t want special rights, just the same rights afforded to other married couples.”

In a virtually identical situation to Michigan, the state of Utah had refused to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples who were married after Utah’s ban on marriage equality was struck down as unconstitutional and before that decision was stayed pending appeal. In May, a federal district court in Utah ordered the state to recognize those marriages in another ACLU case, holding that Utah’s invalidation of those marriages was unconstitutional.

The Utah court emphasized that the legal marriages of same-sex couples in that state had to be recognized regardless of what happened to the Utah marriage equality ruling on appeal. Ultimately, the marriage equality ruling was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The couples are represented by ACLU attorneys Jay Kaplan, Michael J. Steinberg, Dan Korobkin, Brooke Tucker, Kary Moss and John Knight as well as ACLU cooperating attorneys Julian Mortenson, who argued the preliminary injunction motion, and Andrew Nickelhoff.

Read the judge's opinion

View the photos & stories of the families impacted by this historic ruling