Seventeen going on fifty

By Haridos Apostolides, US Correspondent

US Gay Marriage Michigan

Even delayed decisions are giving hope to same-sex couples

On Saturday morning hundreds of same-sex couples marched down the aisle to county offices across Michigan in order to exchange vows, only to have that right halted mere hours later by an appeals court.

Friday welcomed the northern territory into the growing gang of states which allow same-sex marriages after a voter-approved ban was struck down by Federal District Court Judge, Bernard A. Friedman, for its unconstitutional limitations.

It is believed around 300 couples were married in these few hours on Saturday before the stay, implemented after an appeal was filed by Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette.

“In 2004, the citizens of Michigan recognised that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” he stated on Friday. “Michigan voters enshrined that decision in our state constitution, and their will should stand and be respected.”

A question mark now hangs over the marriages performed on Saturday morning, whilst advocates for the overturn have until Tuesday to respond to the stay before further action can be taken.

Whereas the UK is currently examining how best to implement the approved Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (as discussed by Nathan Lee), the ‘Free World’ is still divided by its so-called morality and biblical interpretations.

While only seventeen of the fifty US states, and the District of Columbia, have legalised same-sex marriage, that number stood at only five in 2011.

Last June, the United States’ Supreme Court struck down a section of the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This led to a surge in lawsuits challenging state constitutions, of which the New York Times reports there are more than fifty presently in progression.

Recent polls reveal the change of American attitudes toward marriage equality, with more than half now advocating for legalisation. And similarly to the Obama administration, many states are unwilling to defend any marriage-restrictions in court, leaving private groups contesting judicial revisions themselves.

The end-goal for both sides seems to be a decision by the Supreme Court. Last summer the court ruled against Proposition 8, a Californian referendum which limited marriage between one man and one woman, as well as DOMA. However, to the irritation of gay marriage advocates, both cases saw the justices refuse to make any sweeping declarations that would impact bans in other states.

The standing line from all three branches of the federal government – including the Supreme Court – depicts marriage as a matter for state legislatures. This has led to a confused national identity, with some states recognising the unions while others do not.

The trial in Michigan highlighted the detachment between the states and the federal government. Lawyers argued that it was wrong for the federal court to overturn the 2004 state referendum banning same-sex marriage; Judge Friedman ruled that the “state cannot trump federal constitutional limitations”.

Federal Judges have recently struck down bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and now Michigan, whilst also requiring out-of-state marriages to be recognised in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. Forthcoming hearings over the next few months include challenges in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Idaho.

And while many have been stayed pending appeals, some have been fast-tracked through the courts with hearings in Oklahoma and Utah expected as early as April and decisions for the summer.

Should the Supreme Court pick up any number of the current cases, a ruling wouldn’t be expected until at least the summer of 2015. However, should it refuse, rulings would be delegated to circuit court decisions. And the gang of seventeen would see a significant increase in membership.

While the Michigan case may not be certain for some time, Judge Friedman’s decision has given more hope to the state’s citizens, as well as millions of Americans who have been fighting for equal, and legal rights for several decades.

“The momentum for marriage equality is undeniable,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “…We are moving with increasing momentum towards the day when all loving and committed same-sex couples receive the dignity and respect they deserve.”

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