The state of Michigan must recognize nearly 300 same-sex marriages performed during a brief period in which they were legal last year, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
“Same-sex couples, like their opposite-sex-couple counterparts, have the same innately human impulse to maintain bonds of committed intimacy in a socially and legally recognized marriage,” U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, a President Obama appointee, wrote in a 47-page ruling. “The non-recognition policy frustrates that impulse and triggers a deeply felt sense of degradation from the loss of marital status caused by the state that solemnized it in the first instance.”
A different federal judge struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban last March and did not stay the effects of his ruling. That decision triggered hundreds of gay and lesbian couples to marry in the state. But a week later, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Michigan, moved to indefinitely freeze that ruling until it considered the issue for itself. Same-sex couples were no longer permitted to marry there.
Last fall, the 6th Circuit became the only federal appeals court in the nation to uphold bans on same-sex nuptials since June 2013, when the Supreme Court invalidated a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and cleared the way for married gay and lesbian couples to begin receiving federal recognition. The 6th Circuit’s ruling prompted Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette to “void” some 300 same-sex marriages that took place in the state earlier that year.
But according to Judge Goldsmith, “what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder.” Michigan must recognize the same-sex marriages performed in the state during the window period in which they were allowed. Goldsmith stayed the effect of his ruling for 21 days.
LGBT advocates hailed his decision.
“These marriages are cherished and valid—same as any other—and it’s only right that the courts and our country recognize as much,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan LGBT Project, in a statement. The ACLU of Michigan sued the state on behalf of the married gay and lesbian couples being denied spousal recognition.
“All these couples have ever asked is that they be able to love and protect their families without being discriminated against,” Kaplan continued. “With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams.”
Thursday’s ruling comes one day before the nation’s highest court is set to consider whether to take up a marriage equality case out the 6th Circuit and decide once and for all if gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to wed. Earlier this week, the justices rejected an appeal from the plaintiffs in Louisiana, where the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule. But the high court is still considering marriage equality cases out of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.