Government, Human Resources, and Law

Gay couple sues Michigan for recognition of out-of-state marriage

June 18, 2014
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Gay marriages recognized by feds
Stephanie Myott. Courtesy Rhoades McKee

A gay couple working with a local attorney has filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan over the state’s failure to recognize their out-of-state marriage.

Stephanie D. Myott, a Rhoades McKee attorney in Grand Rapids, filed the lawsuit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on behalf of Bruce T. Morgan and Brian P. Merucci.

The lawsuit also includes Kent County Clerk and Register Mary Hollinrake, due to her denial of Morgan and Merucci’s “right to hold property as tenants by the entirety.”

Morgan and Merucci are Michigan residents who have been in a committed relationship for seven years. The couple married in New York in 2013.

Morgan was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in 2011, prompting the couple’s decision to marry in New York when it became legal to do so.

The federal government recognizes the couple’s marriage as legal, but the state of Michigan does not.

Federal ruling

The couple believes their marriage should be recognized by the State of Michigan based on the March 21 decision by Judge Bernard Friedman in DeBoer v. Snyder, where Friedman held that Michigan’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement.

Rhoades McKee’s Myott said the effect of Judge Friedman’s ruling was to authorize the performance of same-sex marriages in Michigan and to recognize the thousands of same-sex couples living in Michigan with marriage licenses from other states.

“At the moment when Judge Friedman struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, the thousands of marriages of same-sex couples in Michigan at that time whose marriages were performed before March 21, 2014 in other states took effect in Michigan pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause,” Myott said. “Michigan must recognize Bruce and Brian’s New York marriage.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Judge Friedman’s ruling on March 25.

Approximately 300 same-sex marriages had been performed in Michigan by that point.

State

On March 26, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder issued a statement that the same-sex marriages entered into in Michigan after the DeBoer ruling were valid, but that Michigan would not recognize those marriages pending the Sixth Circuit appeal.

In his statement, Snyder did not acknowledge the thousands of married same-sex couples with out-of-state marriage licenses that were living in Michigan when the ban was lifted.

“Governor Snyder only addressed the couples who married in Michigan after the DeBoer ruling,” Myott said. “No one is talking about the thousands of couples in Michigan who were married in another state, like Bruce and Brian. The Constitution protects their fundamental rights as well.”

Kent County

After Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down, Morgan and Merucci sent a deed conveying their home to themselves as tenants by the entirety — a form of real property ownership available only to married couples — to the Kent County Register of Deeds for recording. The Register of Deeds refused to record the deed, claiming, “Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages at this time,” which led to the inclusion of Hollinrake in the lawsuit.

“If I am in the hospital, I want to know that Brian can be there at my bedside, as my spouse, and that the hospital will recognize the decisions he makes regarding my care,” Morgan said. “I want to file joint taxes, to have spousal visitation rights and to own property with Brian as spouses. I know that Brian will be by my side during this difficult time, and I want him to be recognized as my spouse when he does because that is who he is. We simply want equal treatment under the law.”

Cases

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the only case in Michigan regarding the enforceability of the thousands of out-of-state same-sex marriages that took effect in Michigan when Judge Friedman ruled in DeBoer,” Myott said.

Another lawsuit has been filed in the Eastern District of Michigan on behalf of the same-sex couples who married in Michigan in the window of time between Judge Friedman’s ruling and the Sixth Circuit’s stay that challenges the separate issue of the validity of those marriages. 

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