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April 24, 2015 ( — Michigan has refused to recognize as a marriage the relationship between two men who had obtained a marriage license out of state.  The couple, one of whom suffers from brain cancer, had hoped that an appeal to pity would convince the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to force the state's hand.

Bruce Merucci and Brian Morgan claimed in their suit against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder that “[t]he alarming diagnosis” of Morgan's condition “reinforced Bruce and Brian's commitment to each other and made them realize how much they value and cherish each other and how precious their time together is.”

They also referenced approximately 300 same-sex couples possessing Michigan marriage licenses.  On March 21, 2014, these couples took advantage of a one-day “window of opportunity” after U.S. district judge Bernard Friedman's same-day ruling striking down Michigan's constitutional marriage protection amendment.  The ruling prompted clerks in four counties to immediately began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  The “window of opportunity” closed when, the following day, the Sixth Circuit mandated a stay on the issuance of such marriage licenses.

Gov. Snyder fought the recognition of these relationships as marriages but declined to appeal U.S. district judge Mark Goldsmith's January 15, 2015 ruling demanding that he reverse course.  Merucci and Morgan argued that if Michigan is to consider these 300 relationships marriages, the state should consider theirs such as well.

Neither of Merucci's and Morgan's arguments passed muster with the court.  In evaluating their case, U.S. District Judge Gordon J. Quist deferred to precedent: “While the Court is not unsympathetic to Plaintiffs' circumstances in light of Plaintiff Morgan's health status, the Court is nonetheless bound by the Sixth Circuit's decision in DeBoer, which directly controls Plaintiffs' claims and remains valid.”

Regarding the “window of opportunity,” Merucci and Morgan had obtained their marriage license in New York, which, Gov. Snyder argued, rendered the point irrelevant.

Quist agreed: “The Caspar court considered a discrete issue and the district court's holding was very narrow.  Plaintiffs in the instant case were married in New York before the brief window of time in which the Michigan marriages at issue in Caspar were performed. Caspar has no application to Plaintiffs' claims.”

“DeBoer” refers to DeBoer v. Snyder, one of four marriage cases heading to the U.S. Supreme Court for adjudication.  Michigan joins Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee in defending marriage defined as the permanent and exclusive sexually complementary union between one man and one woman.  “Caspar” refers to the decision demanding that Michigan recognize the 300 same-sex relationships as marriages.

Currently, 35 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer marriage licenses for same-sex unions.  The majority of these states were compelled to do so by state or federal court decisions.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in DeBoer and the other three marriage cases on Tuesday, April 28.  The annual March for Marriage will take place on April 25.


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