Last year at this time, thousands of same sex couples were hoping that the federal government would step up and recognize their state marriages. This year, in the post-Windsor realm, the federal government will recognize legally performed same sex unions while states, like Michigan, prefer the limbo game.
On Saturday, March 22, over 300 same sex couples were legally wed after Judge Bernard Friedman declared Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and a violation of the 14th Amendment. Sadly, the honeymoon of equality was brief - by 6 p.m. the Sixth Circuit had issued a stay, halting any further marriages and throwing over 600 individuals into legal limbo.
Governor Snyder has contended that although the marriages performed were legal, the state is unable to recognize them until either the stay is lifted or the case is ultimately decided on appeal. This statement and decision by Governor Snyder essentially invalidated and repealed all of the marriages that were performed on March 22.
On March 28, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, issued a statement that the marriages were legal in the federal government’s eyes.
I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government. These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. The Governor of Michigan has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into, although Michigan will not extend state rights and benefits tied to these marriages pending further legal proceedings. For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled.
Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families. The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government. And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all.
Yesterday, April 14, the ACLU of Michigan filed a suit on behalf of eight same sex couples. The suit seeks an order to force the state to legally recognize the 300 same sex marriages performed on March 22. The complaint can be found here. (H/T to Equality Case Files for posting this link so quickly!)
For those of you who don’t want to read the complaint (although I highly recommend that you do), it names Governor Snyder, Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan, Michigan Office of Retirement Services Director Phil Stoddard, and Michigan Department of Community Health Director James Haveman.
The complaint lays out a narrative of what happened prior to the suit — the DeBoer case and disposition, the 300 marriages, the stay, Snyder’s statement, and US Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement. The complaint then describes each of the plaintiffs and their relationships.
Unsurprisingly, these are people who have not entered into marriage lightly — they have been together for years, have supported each other, have raised families together — they have taken on all of the responsibilities that a marriage brings and simply ask for some of the rights that are granted with the relationship.
Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong — the first same sex couple married in Michigan and named plaintiffs in the suit — are described as being “hurt and dumbfounded” by the State’s decision to invalidate the marriages. These women have been together for 27 years and are facing some very real issues. Marsha suffers from an autoimmune disease and has been hospitalized in the past. The women fear that if Marsha is admitted to a hospital that doesn’t recognize Glenna as her spouse, that the two could be barred from seeing each other.
“They could not understand how their marriage could be legal, yet they could not be afforded any rights or recognition. As the couple publicly stated at the time, “It’s akin to saying ‘Rick Snyder, you were elected governor, but we’re not giving you an office or letting you serve.’ There is no in-between. We are not a ‘skim milk marriage’ as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has so poignantly identified.”
Plaintiffs Clint McCormack and Bryan Reardon have been together for 22 years and are raising thirteen (yes, you read that correctly THIRTEEN) children. Six of the children have been jointly adopted by Clint and Bryan in the state of New Jersey. Four of the children were adopted by Brian alone in states that do not permit second parent adoption (like Michigan). Three of the children were placed in the couple’s care as foster children by Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS). Bryan and Clint plan to adopt their foster children if the biological parents’ rights are terminated.
During the DeBoer trial, the State repeatedly asserted what I call the “won’t SOMEONE think of the children” argument. That is, they said that children would just be better off raised by married, opposite sex, biological parents. This argument was soundly rejected and the Court found that children raised by same sex parents showed no difference. The Court also found that providing marriage equality to same sex couples would provide more stability for these families.
This sentiment was echoed in this complaint. Bryan and Clint wished to have their relationship recognized so that “their children will not suffer the stigma, humiliation, and emotional confusion of having only one legally recognized parent in a two-parent family.” The stigma and confusion is real — their fifteen-year-old son was “emotionally devastated when he learned that his other father, Clint, is not recognized by law as his parent.”
The complaint lists two causes of action — substantive due process and equal protection. The substantive due process arises from the Fourteenth Amendment which provides that no State “shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Plain english version: the government can’t mess with your fundamental rights. These fundamental rights include the right to marry, establish a home, bring up children, and make personal decisions relating to procreation, contraception, family relationships, life partnerships, and education.
This isn’t new law — it’s pretty well settled that the government can’t intrude on these issues. Once a constitutionally protected relationship (like a marriage) takes place, it acquires even more protections under the Due Process clause. These protections and benefits cannot be stripped away by a legislative or judicial act. That means that even if the legislature were to declare the marriages illegal, or the DeBoer case were to be overturned by the Sixth Circuit, the 300 marriages performed on March 22 were, are, and will remain intact and are entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with marriage.
The Equal Protection claim also arises under the Fourteenth Amendment. Equal Protection claims occur when the State treats one group of people, but no other groups of people, differently in a disfavored manner. In this case, when the State refused to treat all married couples alike and singled out the same-sex couples by depriving them of the rights and privileges associated with marriage, it violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The complaint closes (as all complaints do) with a prayer for relief — that is, what the plaintiffs want from the state. Spoiler alert: the plaintiffs aren’t asking for magical ponies or a gajillion tons of gold. They’re asking for basic rights. The plaintiffs want the Court to take the following actions:
- Declare that the Michigan Marriage Amendment (and any other associated statutes) are unconstitutional and do not impact the marriages of the 300+ couples who were legally married on March 22;
- Declare that the State was wrong in its refusal to recognize the marriages of same sex couples that took place on March 22;
- Declare that the State’s refusal to recognize the March 22 marriages violated those couples’ due process and equal protection rights as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
- Enjoin (read: STOP) the State from enforcing the Michigan Marriage Amendment against couples who were legally married in Michigan and whose marriages were valid at the time they were entered into (read: same sex couples married in other jurisdictions with marriage equality);
- Make the State recognize that all of the same sex marriages that were entered into in Michigan on March 22 as well as the same sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions with marriage equality as legal and valid marriages. This count also asks the State to grant these legally married couples all the benefits, rights, and privileges given to other legally married couples and their families under Michigan law;
- Award the Plaintiffs’ attorney fees and court costs.
Note that the prayer addresses marriages from other states. That means if you’ve been married in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, or Washington D.C., this suit is fighting for your right to be recognized as a legally married couple here in Michigan.
The fight is still on, people, and marriage equality is gaining serious momentum here in Michigan.
Sometimes, when the ACLU files a case on behalf of the gays, I imagine a hostile press conference in which the attorney throws down a la this pony. I realize that Jay Kaplan, the ACLU’s wonderful attorney for these matters, is a pretty nonviolent guy and I’m pretty sure he’s not a brony but nonetheless…it amuses me so I’m sharing it with all of you.