Thursday U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that Michigan must respect the marriages of the approximately 300 same-sex couples who married after Judge Bernard Friedman struck down marriage discrimination last March. The decision rebukes the state for refusing to respect those marriages. The ruling came as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to grant review of several marriage cases, including one out of Michigan.
“This Court concludes that the continued legal validity of an individual’s marital status in such circumstances is a fundamental right comprehended within the liberty protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Judge Goldsmith wrote. “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.”
Judge Goldsmith continued, “Although no Supreme Court case has squarely addressed the question of maintaining one’s marital status, the compelling inference to be drawn from the cases addressing marriage and family is that the liberty interest being protected is the on-going relationship that the parties expect – or at least, fervently hope – will endure so long as they both live. In other words, what is ‘fundamental’ is not simply the snapshot moment when vows are spoken, but the lifetime of committed intimacy that couples expect will follow.”
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said after the ruling Thursday morning: “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.”
In the past two years, virtually every federal and state court to hear marriage cases has ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, with only one appellate court ruling the other way. The Supreme Court could grant review of that outlier ruling, from the 6th Circuit, as soon as tomorrow.
Read the full ruling below and here.