Judge Rules State’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

The recent decision by a federal court in Michigan in DeBoer v. Snyder could have major implications for your employee benefit plans.  The extent of the impact on a particular plan will depend upon the provisions of the plan—particularly how the term “spouse” is defined—as well as future litigation and regulatory developments.

Last Friday evening, March 21, 2014, Federal Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and enjoined the state from enforcing the ban.  However, by Saturday night, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had granted Michigan’s request for an emergency stay on Judge Friedman’s ruling until Wednesday, while it considers whether to issue a permanent stay pending the state’s appeal.

However, in the interim, numerous marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples (many of which wed the same day) by four counties across the state, including Ingham County, whose Clerks’ offices remained open on Saturday for this specific purpose.  The impact that the stay and future appeal will have on these marriages is unclear at this time.  The Governor’s office indicated yesterday that Michigan state agencies will not begin recognizing these marriages while a stay remains in place.

For more information regarding the potential impact these proceedings could have on your benefit plans, please contact attorney Elizabeth H. Latchana at 517.377.0826 or elatchana@fraserlawfirm.com, or attorney Brian Gallagher at 517.377.0886 or bgallagher@fraserlawfirm.com.