Same-sex marriages (SSM) and LGBT protection in Michigan.
Current status; constitutional amendment;
activity; federal lawsuit by a
public opinion polls;
to allow discrimination by adoption agencies.
The acronym "SSM" refers to marriage by same-sex couples.
2004 to the present time:
In 2004, an amendment to the Michigan Constitution was approved by voters. It prevents the relationships of same-sex couples from being recognized by the state, either by allowing them to marry, or permitting them to enter into a civil union or a domestic partnership. They are to be regarded as mere roommates. They and their children are devoid of protections that are automatically given to all married opposite-sex couples.
Public opinion polls have shown a continual rise in support by the Michigan public for same-sex marriage. Support rose from 24% in 2004 to 57% by 2013-MAY. Approval of SSM in Michigan appears to be slightly higher than among Americans nationally and is probably pushing 60% by early 2014.
April DeBoer of Detroit has adopted a special needs daughter. Ryanne, 3. Her same-sex partner of six years, Jayne Rowse, has adopted two special needs sons Jacob, 3 and Nolan, 4. State law prohibits them from jointly adopting their three children. If they were married, joint adoption would have been a routine procedure. They launched a lawsuit in federal court during 2012 to have the court change the adoption law. However, federal District Court judge Bernard Friedman suggested that their underlying problem was actually the 2004 constitutional amendment that prohibits them from marrying. They altered the lawsuit accordingly. Oral arguments were held on 2013-JUL-10. The court's ruling was expected in 2013-OCT. However, it went to trial on 2014-FEB-25.
The plaintiffs' lawyers made the usual arguments heard since 2013 in dozens of other District Courts. They based their case on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees them equal treatment to opposite-sex couples. The defendants' lawyers made the usual argument heard in the previous District Courts that the vote by the public to amend the state constitution somehow outweighs the guarantees in the federal Constitution. They also argued on the basis of a single, widely discredited and rejected study from Texas which showed that children fare better in families led by opposite-sex couples than by same-sex couples.
On 2014-MAR-21, Judge Friedman followed the recent lead of five other District Court judges in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia by ruling the state constitutional amendment void and unenforceable. About 320 same-sex couples rushed to a few county clerks who were issuing marriage licenses. The couples were able to obtain licenses and marry. The U.S. 6th Court of Appeals issued a stay of the lower court ruling on 2014-MAR-22.
This reinforces once more that same-sex couples who want to marry in their state need to investigate what is needed in the form of identification and money to obtain a license, and arrange in advance with a cooperative clergyperson so that they can get obtain a license and marry on a moment's notice. Marriage may suddenly be made available to them, but the window of opportunity may shut within hours.
A dispute arose between U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith and state attorneys over whether the approximately 320 couples are actually married. On 2015-JAN-15, Judge Goldsmith determined that the couples marriages are valid. He wrote:
"... there is a long history of court decisions and legislative enactments, under a variety of theories, reflecting a national consensus rejecting the view that a personās marital status may be invalidated by a state after it was lawfully acquired under that stateās law." 3,4
However, he placed a temporary stay on his order to allow the state to appeal his ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On 2015-FEB-04, Governor Rick Snyder (R) announced that he would not appeal the District Court ruling. The couples' marriages are now considered valid. 5
Cases from Michigan, as well as Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee are to be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court!
Various U.S. District courts had declared SSM bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee to be unconstitutional because they violate the due process and/or equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. All four cases were appealed to a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On 2014-NOV-06, the panel found same-sex marriage bans in 4 these contiguous states to be constitutional by a 2:1 vote! This came as a surprise to many observers because dozens of federal courts had recently ruled similar bans to be unconstitutional in many other states; they had followed the lead of the high court's ruling in Windsor v. United States during 2013-JUN.
Although this was a defeat for marriage equality supporters after a long string of victories, it may help their cause in the long term. It generated what is called a "circuit split" in which the 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th Circuit Courts upheld SSM and the 6th Circuit Court rejected SSM. This greatly increased the liklehood that the high court would accept appeals in order to harmonize the conflict.
The plaintiffs of the four cases appealed their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court. On 2015-JAN-16, the Justices of the high court met in a closed session and decided to grant certiorari -- hear the appeals -- of all four cases. Hearings are expected in 2015-APR with a ruling probably issued in late 2015-JUN or early 2015-JUL.