Judge weighs hearing on fate of 300 same-sex marriages

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

A judge is considering whether a new hearing is necessary to determine the legality of 300 same-sex unions in Michigan after a federal appeals court last week upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage.

U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith is hearing a case in Detroit, Caspar v. Snyder, brought on behalf of eight same-sex couples who were married at Michigan county clerk’s offices during the brief window when gay marriage was legal in the state.

In light of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision Thursday to uphold the state’s gay marriage ban, Goldsmith has ordered each of the sides to provide a brief “addressing the impact, if any, the decision has on the pending motions,” according to court documents.

“The Court will determine whether or not a new hearing is needed after review of the supplemental briefing,” Goldsmith said Friday in his order.

A hearing Aug. 22 lasted about two hours as both sides presented their case.

Marriages between same-sex couples were conducted for a day at some county clerk’s offices after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled the ban unconstitutional. Friedman issued his ruling in a separate lawsuit brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two Hazel Park nurses raising children as a couple, on March 21.

Clerks in Ingham, Oakland, Washtenaw and Muskegon counties provided special Saturday hours on March 22, a day after Friedman lifted the ban, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

That same day, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati issued a stay on marriages until the DeBoer case could be decided. But the stay came down after 300 couples had already completed the necessary steps to be married.

After the federal appellate court ruling, Gov. Rick Snyder, who is listed as a defendant in both cases on behalf of the state, said the 300 married couples still don’t have state benefits of marriage.

“As I have previously stated, the same-sex couples who married at county clerk offices in the period between U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's ruling in March and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ temporary stay of that ruling, were legally married,” Snyder said in a statement Thursday. “However, the Court of Appeals decision does not allow for state benefits of marriage for those same-sex couples in accordance with our state constitution. That decision only can be changed if today's appeals court ruling is overturned.”

In the Caspar v. Snyder case, each side must provide a brief of 10 pages or less, with the state’s brief due Friday and the couples’ brief due Nov. 21.

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. They said they have waited 27 years to be able to marry.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan LGBT Project is handling the case on behalf of the couples. Attorney Michael Murphy is representing the state.

“We’ve argued it that the Caspar case is about the right to stay married, whereas the DeBoer case is about the right to get married,” said ACLU staff attorney Jay Kaplan. “Just because the law might change for a court decision doesn’t change the validity of a couple’s marriage.”

He says a new hearing is not needed, and the state is trying to continue to delay the marriages.

“We’re dealing with people who were legally married in March and the way the state is treating them, it’s close to eight months that their marriages are being put on hold by the state,” said Kaplan. “Now the state is saying the Supreme Court needs to decide first. It’s not right, it’s not fair, it’s clearly discriminatory.”

Sydney Allen, a spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, said the AG’s office would file a brief Friday and “at that time, we will let the filing speak for itself.”


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