DETROIT — A lawyer urged a judge Thursday to order Michigan to recognize hundreds of same-sex marriages performed during a brief window in March, saying the unions were valid even if a higher court eventually reinstates the state's ban on gay marriage.
"The state cannot mandatorily divorce you," University of Michigan law professor Julian Mortenson said during a 90-minute hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction.
U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state's gay marriage ban on March 21, and more than 300 same-sex couples in four counties got hitched the next day, Saturday, before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati recently heard arguments about whether to overturn or affirm Friedman's decision. In the meantime, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting to force the state to recognize the marriages that did happen for the purpose of benefits and other issues.
Unlike the federal government, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, won't recognize them while the broader question of gay marriage remains at the appeals court.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month suspended an order that had required Utah to recognize more than 1,000 same-sex marriages performed in that state.
Michigan Assistant Attorney General Michael Murphy encouraged U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith to turn down the ACLU's request for an injunction and let the appeals court sort out the entire matter.
"These things are not straightforward. ... It's not clean. It's not clear. It's not concise," said Murphy, who suggested the state would immediately appeal any adverse ruling by Goldsmith.
Some of the affected couples attended the hearing and later applauded the ACLU lawyers on the sidewalk outside the courthouse.
"I started crying" in court, said Marsha Caspar, who married Glenna DeJong in Ingham County. "It's about respect."
Frank Colasonti Jr., a retired school administrator from Oakland County, married his partner of 26 years, James Ryder. He hasn't been able to make Ryder a beneficiary of his pension because the state won't recognize their marriage.
"We've waited long enough," said Colasonti, who wore a lapel pin: "same love, same rights."
Mortenson said Michigan's refusal to recognize the marriages has affected health insurance and the ability of same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. He said the marriages are legal, even if the gay-marriage ban is restored.
"Our case is about the right to stay married, not the right to get married," Mortenson told Goldsmith.
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