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Judge hears arguments over recognizing 300 same-sex marriages in Michigan

Jake Neher

Some 300 same-sex couples in Michigan are waiting to hear whether a federal judge will force the state to recognize their marriages. Judge Mark Goldsmith heard arguments on Thursday from attorneys for the state and for the same-sex couples.

The couples got married on a single day in March after another federal judge struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. But that ruling is now on hold while it’s being appealed. Gov. Rick Snyder says the state will not recognize the marriages in the meantime, although he admits they were performed legally.

That has left hundreds of couples’ marriages in limbo.

“Being legally married and receiving the benefits and protection of marriage are not and cannot be mutually exclusive,” said Glenna DeJong of Lansing. DeJong and Marsha Caspar were the first same-sex couple to get married in Michigan. They are the lead plaintiffs in the case.

“Yet the couples married on March 22nd are caught in a paradox; we’re married and we’re not. We’re being treated like second-class citizens just because of who we love,” said DeJong.

The state is asking Judge Goldsmith to delay his decision until the appeals process plays out for the challenge to Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. It says that decision will probably offer guidance for how to rule in this case.  

But attorneys for the same-sex couples say there’s no reason legally married couples should have to wait to be recognized.

“There’s no time to wait,” said attorney Julian Mortenson, who argued the case on behalf of the same-sex couples and the American Civil Liberties of Michigan (ACLU).

“We need relief now, and we did our best to convey that to the judge today in the courtroom.”

Mortenson says some of the couples involved in the case risk losing their children because they are not allowed to jointly adopt unless they are married. Other couples say there’s a time limit to share retirement benefits, and that time will run out for them soon.

“This has ramifications for death benefits.  This has ramifications for visitation in hospitals. The ramifications of these legal marriages not being treated as legal marriages in Michigan are abundant,” said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, one of four county clerks to open their doors on that day in March to marry the couples.

Judge Goldsmith said he’ll rule soon on whether the marriages should be recognized.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office declined to comment.