Federal judge adds to the marriage momentum in Michigan one day before SCOTUS conference

Today, January 15, 2015, United States District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that Michigan must respect the marriages of more than 300 same-sex couples that were married in March of 2014. This ruling came just one day before the Supreme Court of the United States will hold a conference to decide whether to take up a case involving the freedom to marry.

Today's ruling was in the case Caspar v. Snyder, which was filed on April 14, 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on behalf of eight same-sex couples who received marriage licenses on the first day of the freedom to marry in Michigan. More than 300 couples received marriage licenses on March 22, after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The ruling was stayed later that afternoon, and although the federal government said that it would respect the Michigan marriage licenses for all purposes, Governor Rick Snyder said that the state would deny respect to the licenses as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals considered arguments in the original federal lawsuit.

Freedom to Marry founder and president Evan Wolfson said today:

Last March, 300 committed couples paid their fees, were issued marriage licenses, stood before family and friends, and got married. Unfortunately it took a federal court to get the state of Michigan to treat them as what they are: married. Too many other couples are still being denied the freedom to marry and full respect and equality under the law, in Michigan and other states, and action by the courts remains urgently needed. With marriage cases, including one out of Michigan, now before the Supreme Court, it is time for the justices to grant review and end marriage discrimination nationwide once and for all, without delay, and with no American family or state left behind.

Judge Goldsmith wrote:

The alleged harm of impaired human dignity and denial of at least some tangible benefits have already come about, thereby establishing that the factual record is sufficiently developed, such that there is no need to await future events for adjudication of the issues in this action. And delaying judicial resolution of these issues would serve no useful purpose. To the contrary, such delay would compound the harms these Plaintiffs suffer each day that their marital status remains unrecognized.

Even though the court decision that required Michigan to allow same-sex couples to marry has now been reversed on appeal, the same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief period when such marriages were authorized acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest — a constitutional hurdle that the defense does not even attempt to surmount. In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder.

To rule otherwise would be to create a pernicious precedent that could catastrophically undermine the stability that marriage seeks to create. If a state could withdraw the marital status it had granted, children would suddenly face the stigma that their family was no longer legally recognized. Estate plans would leave unaddressed taxable events or incidents with costly tax consequences. Carefully crafted pension arrangements would become inoperative, plunging survivors into potentially ruinous financial hardship. In terms of the personal ordering and orderliness of one’s most fundamental affairs, nothing would be more destructive of “ordered liberty.” And such disarray would come about not because of action voluntarily taken by the couple after they married, but rather due solely to a change in the solemnizing state’s law.

Judge Goldsmith's ruling, which is stayed for 21 days, means that all of the same-sex couples who were married on March 22 before the ruling was stayed will soon be respected by the state.

Today's decision shows great momentum as the Supreme Court of the United States gears up to decide whether to take a marriage case. Judge Goldsmith's ruling reflects the truth that there is no need to keep same-sex couples waiting to marry, and that the Supreme Court should take a case and bring the country to a national resolution on the freedom to marry.

Read the full ruling here.