Same-sex marriage in Michigan remains in legal limbo

Posted at 5:51 PM, Oct 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-07 20:18:06-04

MICHIGAN - The fight for marriage equality remains front and center in Michigan one day after the United States Supreme Court declined to hear several cases involving gay marriage.

By making that decision Monday, the court left in place circuit court decisions that struck down bans on same-sex marriage, effectively legalizing the practice in 11 states.

There are now 32 states where same-sex marriage is legal, including Nevada and Idaho. A federal appeals court struck down marriage bans in those states just this afternoon.

Michigan, however, remains in legal limbo, waiting for a decision from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s a decision that could be handed down at seemingly any moment, leaving lots of people anxious.

“It would be a great case to go to the Supreme Court because the decision made by the Supreme Court right now means that all gay marriages that happened before this are legal in the 30 states that had those rulings,” said Dawn Broderick.

She is one half of a same-sex marriage. Dawn has been ‘out’ for 30 years, but her partner, who has been ‘out’ just a few years, declined to be on camera with FOX 17. The last time she was on TV, the couple received hate mail.

Dawn and her wife are among those waiting to hear from the Sixth Circuit, which has yet to rule on cases involving gay marriage from Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.

“In theory, the Sixth Circuit can say ‘we don't care what all these other circuits are doing, we are going to uphold Michigan’s ban,’” said Curt Benson, a professor at Cooley Law School.

If that’s the court’s decision, Benson says it’s all but guaranteed the Supreme Court would take the case.

But it’s not necessarily the next step. The losing side could appeal to the entire Sixth Circuit, a rare process called ‘en banc’ where nearly the entire panel of judges would hear the case.

“If it's a case of major public importance that's when they hear it,” Benson said. “There's a good chance they hear it en banc even though, traditionally, they don't like doing it.”

At the time, the court’s en banc panel could overturn itself, or affirm the decision. Then, the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court, which is a time consuming process.

“There would be thousands and thousands of legal same sex marriages,” Benson explained. He says it would be highly unlikely “that a year from now the court will go never mind it's not unconstitutional to ban them. That would be truly legal chaos.”

But it’s the legality of marriage that Dawn Broderick is most looking forward to because until then, Dawn says she cannot properly care for her family.

“(I can’t) have them on my insurance policy,” Broderick explained. “If somebody gets sick, I have a legal right to be there by their bedside. This is gonna mean so much more for my security and my safety in my marriage.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday, many legal observers believe the writing is on the wall and it’s only a matter of time before gay marriage is legal in all 50 states.