Gay marriage recognition for man with cancer on hold
For a gay man from East Grand Rapids with terminal brain cancer, the U.S. Supreme Court can't rule fast enough on whether Michigan's same-sex marriage ban is constitutional.
Bruce Morgan, who has been fighting brain cancer for four years, and his husband, Brian Merucci, have been petitioning a federal judge in Michigan's western district to have their Dec. 7, 2013, marriage in New York recognized here.
The couple thought they could prevail when Gov. Rick Snyder declared 323 gay and lesbian marriages performed on a Saturday in March 2014 legal during a short-lived period following the decision of a federal judge in Detroit to strike down Michigan's decade-old gay marriage ban.
"The fact that they granted those 300 couples seems like that should have instantly looped us into that," Merucci said in an interview with The Detroit News.
But at Snyder's urging, the federal judge in Grand Rapids has blocked Morgan's and Merucci's request for legal recognition until the Supreme Court rules on whether Michigan's state-level gay marriage ban denies equal protection under federal law.
Morgan's cancer has recently returned, making the timing of the High Court's decision even more critical, Merucci said.
"Things with him could change without notice, (and) that's concerning," said Merucci, a technology salesman. "In our lifetime, whoever goes first — before that happens — we would basically like our home state to recognize our marriage."
While the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments Tuesday on a consolidated four-state gay marriage case, the justices aren't expected to rule on the deeply divisive issue until the end of June.
U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist said this week his hands are tied because of the unsettled litigation in the gay-marriage case involving a Hazel Park lesbian couple fighting for parental and marriage rights.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the March 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman that the gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, which is why the DeBoer v. Snyder lawsuit and three other cases are going before the justices Tuesday.
"While the court is not unsympathetic to plaintiffs' circumstances in light of plaintiff Morgan's health status, the court is nonetheless bound" by the Sixth Circuit's decision, Quist wrote in a Tuesday ruling in Morgan and Merucci's case.
Merucci said he has had to jump through several legal hoops to get power-of-attorney rights for Morgan's medical decisions as he travels out-of-state for cancer treatment in North Carolina.
"We are dealing with some challenges that most married couples don't ever have to deal with," Merucci said.
Grand Rapids attorney Stephanie Myott, who is representing Morgan and Merucci, argues that her clients' marriage rights in Michigan "sprung to life" on March 22 last year when other gay couples rushed to courthouses in Ingham, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw counties to exchange their vows.
Myott argued that another judge's recent decision validating the 323 marriage certificates for same-sex couples from that day should mean her clients' marriage license is valid in Michigan, too. That case involved a lawsuit brought against the state by Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong and other couples who sued for their marriage rights to be validated.
"They do have a valid marriage (in New York)," Myott said. "They just want the same respect and validation of their marriage that any other couple gets."
But Attorney General Bill Schuette's office argued in Snyder's defense that the ruling in the Caspar lawsuit does not apply to this situation where a couple wants their marriage from another state recognized in Michigan.
"Since (Morgan and Merucci) were married in New York, the rationale of Caspar is inapplicable," Assistant Attorney General Michael Murphy wrote in an April 16 court filing.
The judge sided with Snyder and Schuette, ruling that the Caspar case "has no application" in Morgan and Merucci's plea for marriage rights in Michigan.
"The Morgan case is directly related to one of the very issues before and to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said in an email Friday. "The governor is looking forward to these larger issues being addressed and resolved by the country's highest court for once and for all for the benefit of all Michiganders so we can come together and move forward on the other challenges we face."
Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks gay marriage cases across the country, said Myott's argument that her clients' marriage briefly became legal on March 22, 2014, in Michigan and should be honored "is creative."
Tobia said he doesn't understand why Quist did not grant this one couple an "emergency" recognition of their marriage, in light of Morgan's health.
"It seems to me it could be a justifiable exercise of discretion" Tobias said. "It's not opening the floodgates. ... I don't understand what the resistance is about. It's only one couple. It's mystifying."