Legal Angle: Q&A with LGBT Staff Attorney Jay Kaplan

January 26, 2015

Last week, a federal judge ruled that Michigan must recognize the marriages of more than 300 couples who legally wed after Michigan’s marriage ban was struck down in March.

While the ruling is stayed for now, this incredible news came just one day before the U.S. Supreme Court announced it was taking up Michigan’s marriage case.

Learn more about how these cases will impact equality in Michigan in the video and questions below.

Does this decision affect couples whose marriages were performed in other states?
The Caspar decision only affects same-sex couples who were legally married in Michigan on March 22, 2014. In agreeing to take the 6th Circuit marriage-equality cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, the United States Supreme Court will not only be focusing on the right of same-sex couples to marry, but also whether a state is obligated to recognize out of state marriages of same-sex couples. A decision in these cases will be rendered by the end of
June 2015.

The judge issued a stay of his decision for 21 days. What does this mean?
The state does not have to begin recognizing these 300 marriages for 21 days, while it decides whether it wishes to appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Will the Attorney General appeal this ruling? What happens then?
We’ll know whether there will be an appeal for sure in the next week or so. We hope that both the AG and Governor’s office will not appeal this decision.

The judge’s opinion is very thorough and makes it extremely clear that the state’s refusal to recognize these marriages is unconstitutional, rejecting every defense of an indefensible policy.

To appeal this decision would not only be a waste of state resources, but would continue to prolong the harm to these legally married couples.

If the state decides to appeal the ruling, they could request the 6th Circuit place stay on recognizing the marriages. If the 6th Circuit does grant a stay of the decision, all recognition will be put on hold while the appeal is pending. That would be the worst scenario.

My wife and I were married that day in March. Does this mean we can file a joint state tax return or apply for state benefits?
Wait until the 21 days are up to see what happens before requesting any state recognition or benefits associated with your marriage.

If the state does not appeal this decision, there is a possibility that you and your wife would be able to file jointly on your state taxes before the April 15th deadline. We’ll know something more concrete in the next few days.

What’s the next step towards full marriage equality?
We’re already there! The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will hear freedom-to-marry cases in all four states in the Sixth Circuit- Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan.

We both hope and believe that the Supreme Court will render a favorable verdict on marriage equality that will provide finality on the issue of the right of same-sex couples to marry.

After all, our country is ready for the freedom to marry nationwide. Thirty-six states already allow same-sex couples to marry and the majority of Americans support marriage equality.

However, regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court decides, this will not impact the legal validity of the Michigan marriages of the 300-plus same-sex couples.

They were legally married in Michigan, and the law said that they could marry at the time they wed. A change in law or a change in court decision does not invalidate that which was legal. There is a long line of legal decisions that support this principle with regard to marriages.