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ACLU of Michigan is considering lawsuit on behalf of same-sex married couples whose marriages are denied state recognition

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UPDATE 2:30PM ET: In related news, the Washington Blade is reporting that Michigan’s US Congressional delegation is asking President Obama’s administration to recognize the same-sex marriages performed there as legal for federal purposes.

A lawsuit may be filed to force Michigan to recognize over 300 same-sex marriages that were performed legally after a federal district court ruled that the state’s ban is unconstitutional. A new report says the ACLU of Michigan is considering challenging the state’s decision to put recognition of the marriages “on hold” pending the Sixth Circuit appeal.

The governor’s office issued a statement this week clarifying that the marriages performed while the district court order was in place are legal marriages, but even so, Michigan officials won’t recognize them until after the appeal process is over because of the Sixth Circuit’s stay. That new position on the issue might help in a potential challenge:

The ACLU of Michigan is considering legal action on behalf of same-sex couples who were married on Saturday after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban but before an appeals court put the decision on hold.

Gov. Rick Snyder, citing advice from his counsel and a desire to follow the law, said Wednesday that some 300 marriage licenses were legally issued to same-sex couples this weekend but will not be recognized by the state because of a stay issued by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The governor’s position could help those couples win federal benefits, according to ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project attorney Jay Kaplan, but it still treats them as “second-class citizens” by denying them access to state benefits such as joint adoption, tax filings and health care options.

The report notes that discussions are underway, but the ACLU of Michigan hasn’t made a decision yet.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder has been asked to weigh in on whether the Michigan marriages will be recognized for purposes of federal benefits. His office hasn’t issued a statement yet.

A similar process has been underway in Utah. There, a federal district court struck down the state’s ban, and marriages took place until the Supreme Court issued a stay. The state put those marriages “on hold”, and the ACLU of Utah is litigating a challenge to that decision. Attorney General Eric Holder has said those marriages will be recognized for federal purposes.

For more information on DeBoer v. Snyder from The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, click here.


  • 1. davep  |  March 27, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Seems to me that the stay simply prevents any further same sex marriages to take place until the trials have concluded. I see no legal basis for the state just deciding to not recognize those 300 same sex marriages which took place after the court issued its ruling and before the stay was put into place. I don't see any legal difference between those 300 civil marriages and the 18,000 that occurred in California between the initial court ruling and the enactment of Prop 8.

  • 2. The Other Steve  |  March 27, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    In the Prop8 situation, there was no law on the books prohibiting those 18,000 marriages. All previous laws doing so had decisively been found unconstitutional by the CA Supreme Court. Prop 8 wrote new law to stop marriages.

    In Michigan and Utah, the corresponding laws existed when those marriages occurred. Whether or not those marriages are valid will hinge on whether that law stays struck down. That decision is not final.

  • 3. grod  |  March 29, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    The State acknowledges these Michigan marriages as legal marriages, which [like out of state marriages] the State now or for an un-determined period of time will decline to recognize. It's similar to Evans v Utah case, which seeks injunctive relief from having their valid marriages recognized. With Utah couples circumstance, nine ME states said that if one of these couples were in their jurisdiction, they would recognize their marriage. Ohio's Judge T Black in December 2013 that the right to remain married and recognized was an aspect of a fundamental rights of individuals: liberty, privacy and free association. . It's not a question of validity, rather its a question of recognition.

  • 4. Schteve  |  March 31, 2014 at 5:27 am

    The stay allows the state to resume applying its marriage amendment, which bars it from recognizing any valid same-sex marriage, whether the couple wed in Michigan or Massachusetts.

    California is an interesting comparison. Ken Starr made this exact argument to the California Supreme Court in Strauss v. Horton, and the court unanimously disagreed with him on that point. But still, that situation can be differentiated from what happened in Utah and Michigan. The crux of the California Supreme Court's argument was that Proposition 8 was not intended to apply retroactively since nothing in its text mentioned anything of the sort, and barring particular language to that effect, laws generally only apply prospectively. It's quite possible that an initiative amendment could have turned back recognition of those marriages, if only it went so far as to spell it out explicitly (likely garnering fewer votes in the process).

    Here, there has not been some new law instated to overturn the court's injunction. Rather, the original injunction is on hold, so Michigan argues that its (lack of) recognition of valid same-sex marriages reverts to what it was before the injunction. The purpose of a stay after an injunction is already in effect is to literally revert to the status quo ante. That is precisely something Proposition 8 didn't do.

  • 5. sfbob  |  March 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    If those 300 marriage licenses were legally issued, what possible justification would there be for refusing to recognize them, regardless of the final outcome of the case?

    Over the years, fewer and fewer states have continued to recognize common-law marriages, however as far as I know, all of the ones previously recognized in states that originally did so continued to be recognized at the state level even after the respective states stopped recognizing new ones.

  • 6. Steve  |  March 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    But they are gay marriage licenses! Everything gay is completely different. Duh.

  • 7. sfbob  |  March 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Oh of course. How silly of me to have forgotten that.

  • 8. Pat  |  March 27, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    What about Utah? A motion hearing was held on March 12 regarding the validity of the marriages which took place last December and we are waiting for a ruling. How long do these things take, in principle? (is it most likely to be imminent, or rather would it probably take several weeks or months?)

  • 9. Tim  |  March 27, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    Hard to say. Some of the recent rulings have come out in a couple of weeks.

  • 10. Ragavendran  |  March 27, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    In the Utah case, the preliminary injunction hearing took place on March 12. Judge Kimball recently granted a 30-day extension for the Plaintiffs to file a response to defendants' motion for partial dismissal of the lawsuit, agreeing with their reasoning that their response to the motion to dismiss will likely depend on what Kimball decides to do regarding the preliminary injunction. That response is now due April 25, so he'd better rule quickly…

  • 11. Schteve  |  March 31, 2014 at 5:31 am

    Michigan doesn't recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries, even though those are also legally valid.

    While I agree it is bizarre for a state to not recognize its own valid marriages, I'd say the state is at least being consistent even if they're wrong. 🙂

  • 12. Equality On TrialFederal &hellip  |  August 7, 2014 at 2:04 am

    […] ACLU of Michigan is considering taking legal action to force statewide recognition of the marriages. The federal government’s […]

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