Three hundred couples who tied the knot when Michigan's gay marriage ban was briefly lifted in March have been given a message from the state that, legally, it's as if their marriages never existed at all.
In a 2-1 decision earlier this month, the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Michigan’s gay marriage ban along with similar laws in three other states. The case, known as DeBoer vs. Snyder, could now be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court; April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, the Michigan couple who originally sued for the right to marry, appealed to the high court for a reversal of the ruling Monday.
In the meantime, the rights of several hundred same-sex couples are in limbo, and a brief filed in a second, separate court case spearheaded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan seems to put their marriages in further legal jeopardy. Michigan's Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) filed the brief Friday, arguing that the 6th Circuit decision means the same-sex marriages that were performed in the state “are void and cannot be recognized for any purposes.”
Michigan's ban on gay marriage was first struck down in March by a federal judge ruling on DeBoer vs. Snyder, and the next day, clerks in a handful of counties agreed to perform marriages for same-sex couples. The 6th Circuit quickly issued a stay on the ruling, but not before 300 couples across the state had been married.
As a result, eight of those couples are suing the state and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) in U.S. District Court with the assistance of the ACLU, arguing for their marriages to be recognized. Snyder said this month that while the same-sex marriages that took place in March are legal, they are not eligible for state benefits.
But the brief Schuette filed in the ACLU case Friday seems to contradict part of Snyder's statement, saying the appeals court ruling voids the marriages altogether. He wrote:
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. 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.
Jay Kaplan, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, strongly disagreed with Schuette’s stance.
“Even the governor has maintained that these were legal marriages,” he told The Huffington Post.
Kaplan further said the 6th Circuit decision on DeBoer vs. Snyder should not have any bearing on the second case, because they’re about two separate things: the right for same-sex couples to get married vs. the right for same-sex couples who are married to receive benefits and have their marriages recognized.
“[In] our case, these people are married, they’re legally married in the state of Michigan. That was the law, they have legal marriage certificates,” Kaplan said. “The federal government recognizes their marriages and is [granting] them full benefits, and the state should do the same.”
Schuette additionally argued that the court should not hear the ACLU case until a final ruling has been made in DeBoer vs. Snyder. If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the case, it could clear the way for a nationwide decision on whether states may ban same-sex marriage.