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Nov 2014
07
November 07, 2014

Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Bans in Michigan and Three Other States, but the Dispute is Far From Over


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has upheld bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. This is a regional decision with national implications.

Michigan voters approved a ban on same sex marriage in 2004, but U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled earlier this year that the ban was unconstitutional. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed Judge Friedman’s ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In March, before a federal court issued a stay on Judge Friedman’s ruling, 306 same-sex couples were legally married in Michigan. Gov. Rick Snyder has said those marriages are valid and legal, but Michigan will not recognize them until the issue is settled by the higher courts.

The Sixth Circuit ruling only applies directly to Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee—it has national implications because it has created a divide in the courts. During a recent speech at the University of Minnesota Law School, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “there will be some urgency” for the nation’s highest court to settle the divide in the lower courts. Until that happens, state laws, rules and programs affecting same-sex couples remain unchanged:
  • Same-sex marriage is still banned in Michigan;
  • Valid same-sex marriages performed in other states are not recognized in Michigan;
  • Same-sex couples married in other states cannot get divorced in Michigan—state courts don’t recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states;
  • Employers in Michigan currently are not required to approve a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act for a worker in a same-sex marriage who needs to care for an ailing spouse;
  • Individuals in same-sex marriages are not entitled to certain state tax breaks and other programs that are afforded opposite sex couples; and
  • Same-sex couples who were married in another state but live in Michigan (or another state that prohibits same-sex marriage) must still file as married status on federal tax returns, but single status on state returns.
Federal programs are more accommodating to same-sex married couples. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Windsor last year that the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples for federal law purposes was unconstitutional. Following that decision, the IRS ruled that married same-sex couples must be treated as married for federal tax purposes, regardless of where the couple lives, as long as the couple was lawfully married under the laws of any one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory or a foreign jurisdiction.

The IRS recently provided additional guidance on how qualified retirement plans, and health and welfare plans, should treat the marriages of same-sex couples. We previously provided a bulletin on how federal laws affect employee benefits for same-sex couples. Click here to read that bulletin

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