Appeals ruling voids 300 gay marriages, Michigan argues

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal appeals court ruling last week that upheld Michigan's ban on gay marriage invalidates the unions of 300 same-sex couples who received marriage licenses in March, attorneys for the state argued in legal briefs filed Friday.

The weddings were performed by county clerks March 22, a day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a stay on marriages March 22, but not until after 300 couples had completed the steps to be married.

Afterward, Gov. Rick Snyder said the affected couples don't have the state benefits of marriage. On Nov. 6, the court in Cincinnati upheld Michigan's ban, and those in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

"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," lawyers for the state wrote in the six-page brief.

It was filed with U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who heard oral arguments in the case in August from both sides in a suit filed by eight of the affected couples. That case, Caspar v. Snyder, is pending.

Marsha Caspar, the lead plaintiff in the case, and Glenna DeJong were the first same-sex couple in Michigan to be married March 22 in Ingham County.

Attorneys for the couples in that case have until Nov. 21 to file their supplemental briefs.

Among the plaintiffs are Frank Colasonti Jr. and James Ryder, the first same-sex couple married in Oakland County on March 22.

Frank Colasonti Jr., left, of Birmingham and James Ryder married in Michigan March 22.

"Jim and I are shocked and angry that the state of Michigan would continue to argue that our legal marriages are null and void," Colasonti said Friday.

Also on Friday, same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in Ohio asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling that upheld that state's ban, plus bans in Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. The Ohio appeal focuses on the state's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriages because of its own ban.

In appealing to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs in the Ohio case argued that states should be forced to recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state. The 6th Circuit ruling "robs married same-sex spouses and their children of dignity and legal respect from cradle to grave," Cincinnati attorney Al Gerhardstein wrote.

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said lawyers for the state would review the appeal. "The Ohio Attorney General's Office had previously stated that it did not anticipate opposing a Supreme Court review of the same-sex marriage issue," Tierney said.

The lawsuit challenging Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage was brought by Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who sought to adopt one another's special needs children and also to marry.

Attorney Carole Stanyar, co-counsel for DeBoer and Rowse, said Friday she expects to file briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. A spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said Friday the state will file its briefs once the plaintiffs' attorneys file theirs.

Dana Nessel, who also represents DeBoer and Rowse, said Friday that she wants to see the justices rule in one of the cases. "We're hoping that they will take one of the cases and decide the issue once and for all," she said Friday.

Associated Press contributed.