Michigan has assumed a new position on the estimated 300 “window” same-sex marriages performed in the state, arguing they’re now void following a federal appeals court ruling upholding Michigan’s ban on gay nuptials.
In a six-page supplemental brief filed on Friday, lawyers for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, argues the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in favor of the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriages has nullified those legal unions.
“Here, the unqualified reversal by the Sixth Circuit in DeBoer nullifies the district court’s decision completely, and it is as if the legal premise upon which Plaintiffs’ marriages are based never existed,” the filing states. “Consequently, 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.”
An estimated 300 same-sex couples were able to marry in Michigan on March 22 after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled in DeBoer v. Snyder the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was constitutional. Days later, the Sixth Circuit issued a stay on the weddings pending appeal, preventing any more taking place as the court reviewed the decision.
At the time, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said the state would recognize the unions as valid, but would suspend state spousal benefits to the couples. In April, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a separate federal lawsuit against the state, Caspar v. Snyder, which alleged denying benefits to these couples violates their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment the U.S. Constitution.
The state assumes a new position in that case one week after the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision in the marriage-equality lawsuit and upheld Michigan’s ban on gay nuptials.
“The DeBoer decision answered two questions: (1) does either the Due Process Clause or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require states to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples; and (2) does the Constitution prohibit a State from denying recognition to same-sex marriages conducted in other States?” the filing states. “The Sixth Circuit answered both questions in the negative, and both of those answers impact pending motions in this case.”
Recognizing that attorneys for the plaintiff same-sex couple in the marriage-equality lawsuit have vowed to take up the matter with the U.S. Supreme Court, the brief states the benefits case should be placed in abeyance until justices come to a decision in other litigation.
But in the event the court proceeds with the case and determines those marriages aren’t void, state lawyers write these couples are still ineligible for state benefits because the Sixth Circuit also asserted the Constitution doesn’t prohibit a state from withholding recognition to same-sex marriages.
“[T]he marriages occurred when the district court incorrectly invalidated Michigan’s public policy,” Schuette writes. “Despite the district court’s decision, Michigan’s public policy has at all times insisted upon a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. In order to protect Michigan’s sovereign interest in that definition, Plaintiffs’ marriages cannot be recognized for any purposes, and the benefits the Plaintiffs seek cannot be provided.”
Michigan’s position on same-sex marriages performed in the state stands in contrast to the federal government’s view. On March 28, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Obama administration would recognize the unions as valid for the purposes of federal benefits.
Snyder is listed on the brief as a defendant in the case, but attorneys for him aren’t among the undersigned in the supplemental brief. Although he has supported defending the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in court, Snyder’s office didn’t immediate respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether he agrees same-sex marriages performed in Michigan are now void.