Judge orders state to recognize 300 same-sex marriages

LGBT community celebrates win for marriage equality

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 20, 2015

METRO DETROIT — Three hundred same-sex couples who married last spring in Michigan are celebrating after a federal judge sided with them and said the state must recognize their marriages as legal.

In his ruling Jan. 15, Judge Mark Goldsmith, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, said that the couples’ rights to due process and equal protection had likely been violated by the state’s actions. He granted a preliminary injunction and put it on hold for 21 days, at which point the decision will take effect.

“In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder,” Goldsmith wrote in his opinion. “Michigan’s nonrecognition policy divests plaintiffs of an essential human dimension in their lives — the legally recognized bond of committed intimacy in a marriage that was solemnized and recognized as valid by the challenging state — the loss of which unquestionably wounds them deeply.”

The 300 couples were originally married right after another federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last March. The state then refused to recognize the marriages once the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision against the ban.

As Gov. Rick Snyder explained at the time: “What we have is a situation here where the legal marriages took place on (March 22, 2014), but because of the stay … we won’t recognize the benefits of that marriage until there’s a removal of the stay, or there’s an upholding of the judge’s opinion by the Court of Appeals or a higher court.”

This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to bring forward the lawsuit on behalf of eight same-sex couples. The case was first heard in district court Aug. 21. Months later, the lawsuit has worked out in their favor.

Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband James Ryder, of Birmingham, were the first same-sex couple to be married in Oakland County.

“We were elated to be married. Then after that, it seemed like it was just a downhill ride for us,” Colasonti said. “We’d be up again for a while, and then down again. It’s been very stressful, and very anxiety-inducing, for both of us. Every marriage has ups and downs, but these are all outside forces, and they’re all out of our control, so it’s always a day of waiting: ‘When is this decision going to come? What’s the decision going to be? And where are we going to be at that point in the status of our marriage?’”

In their lawsuit, the ACLU pointed to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in particular the Due Process clause that prohibits government from arbitrarily denying individuals life, liberty or property outside the sanction of law. They said the state cannot “undo” legal marriages after they have taken place. The plaintiffs also pointed to the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, a safeguard against discrimination.

As described in the complaint: “The Equal Protection clause is violated (when) a state’s officials refuse to treat all married couples alike; identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal; deprive some couples who were legally married in that state, but not other couples who were legally married in that state, of the recognition, benefits, rights and privileges (of marriage); and tell these couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of state recognition.”

The plaintiffs included the following:

• Frank Colasonti, Jr. and James Ryder, of Oakland County: together for more than 26 years. Colasonti wants to adjust his pension plan to provide Ryder with continued survivor benefits and health care, should something happen to Colasonti.

• Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar, of Ingham County: together for more than 27 years. They were the first same-sex couple to get married in Michigan.

• Bianca Racine and Carrie Miller, of Oakland County: together for more than three years. While Racine is in the National Guard, Miller will not be recognized as her spouse by the state’s Veterans Affairs agencies.

• Martin Contreras and Keith Orr, of Washtenaw County: together for more than 28 years. They’re concerned the state won’t recognize their marriage on health benefits and state income taxes.

• Samantha Wolf and Martha Rutledge, of Ingham County: together for more than two years. Rutledge has ongoing health concerns from a car accident and wishes to be covered on her wife’s health insurance.

• Kelly Callison and Anne Callison, of Washtenaw County: together for more than five years. The couple has a 2-year-old son they would like to jointly adopt.

• James Anteau and Jared Haddock, of Oakland County: together for more than 16 years. Anteau would like Haddock covered under his health insurance as his spouse.

“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 ACLU of Michigan LGBT Project, in a statement. “All these couples have ever asked is that they be able to love and protect their families without being discriminated against. With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams.”

On the same day as the ruling, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette made the following statement:

“We are reviewing Judge Goldsmith’s decision but as I have said repeatedly, the sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue the better it will be for Michigan and America.”