5 takeaways from Michigan’s Same-Sex Marriage Case

Another one down! On Friday, I was happy to hear that my birth state of Michigan was the latest to recognize same-sex marriages.  Federal judge Bernard A. Friedman struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban that voters ratified in 2004. As always, I have the takeaways that you need to know from the ruling:

  1. Another Federal Ruling: As with Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas, the Michigan case involved a question of whether state law violated the federal constitution. These types of cases have a lot of significance due to their wide influence on the country as a whole (as opposed to a state court deciding a case on state law which would only affect that state). As the circuit courts rule and appeals are filed, there’s almost no question the Supreme Court will have to weigh in on the issue. That decision would likely affect these types of laws across the country.
  2. The Law Doesn’t Meet the Minimum Level of Scrutiny:  Equal Protection Clause cases necessitate that the law in dispute overcome one of three levels of scrutiny: (a) Minimum Scrutiny (the law in question need only have a rational basis in serving the government’s interest) (b) Intermediate or Heightened Scrutiny (the challenged law must be substantially related to an important state interest), or © Strict Scrutiny (the challenged law has to be narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest).  If the defender of the law, usually a state AG, cannot show it meets the appropriate level of scrutiny, the law violates the Equal Protection Clause and cannot stand. Which level of scrutiny applies depends on whether the law discriminates against a suspect or quasi-suspect classification. Historically, a suspect classification has involved race, alienage, or national origin. Strict scrutiny applies in those cases. A quasi-suspect classification has involved gender or illegitimacy, and those laws have been reviewed under intermediate scrutiny. The level of scrutiny given to laws against gay and lesbian individuals has been hotly contested and has never been clearly defined by the courts (even post-Windsor). However, Friedman wrote that the law “impermissibly discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the provision does not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest.” That statement suggests that these types of laws don’t meet even the minimum level of scrutiny required, let alone the higher level that other judges have required for other protected classes.
  3. Discredited Fake “Scholarship” Strategy: An interesting twist in this case involves the court discrediting a strategy that New York Times recently brought to light. The Times reported that the Heritage Foundation gathered social conservatives consisting of Catholic Intellectuals, researchers, and activists to generate research claiming that gay marriage harms children. This information would then give the courts the basis needed to say that the state’s anti-gay law meets the minimum scrutiny required to justify the law’s existence. In other words, a court could say laws against gay marriage are “rational,” “important,” or “compelling” because they protect the children of the state.  However, throughout this trial two out of the three state’s “expert” witnesses buckled under cross examination and revealed the their unsupported and biased research. The third wasn’t even allowed to testify.  Judge Friedman stated the conservative research was “hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder” which clearly expressed its wish for skewed results.
  4. Marriages on hold for now: As with many other cases involving this conflict between state and federal law, the federal appeals court has halted the marriages for now while it considers the state’s request for an emergency stay. However, hundreds of couples still got to marry in between the ruling and the stay.
  5. 14th Consecutive Court Loss: This decision marks the 14th consecutive court loss for these anti-gay laws. And while the fight is far from over, this type of momentum is very encouraging.

Another step in the right direction! I want to give a special shout out to Jason and Ryan who got married before the stay on marriages went into place. Congrats guys! I’m so happy for you.