Michigan single-sex marriages unaffected by Supreme Court rulings

I’ve been working with some clients who are very interested in the recent Supreme Court decision on laws involving single-sex marriage. As most people know by now, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional in requiring all federal agencies to follow a definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, even when certain states had adopted laws allowing single-sex marriage. The Supreme Court said that this part of the law was unconstitutional.

Basically, the Court is saying that each state has the power and the right to define marriage however it chooses. However, the Court also ruled that the part of DOMA which decrees that a state does not have to legally recognize marriages performed in other states if those marriages violate the state’s laws, was constitutional.

The Court addressed the California case that ruled on the validity of the California law. Most people thought this was going to be their opportunity to find that the state’s referendum-passed law making single-sex marriage illegal was unconstitutional, but the Court sidestepped the issue entirely. Instead, the Court ruled as a procedural matter that the group of people who had banded together to appeal the lower court’s ruling did not have standing to make those arguments. The Court said that the State of California was the only party able to appeal that decision, and since they had elected to not appeal it, no one else had the right to take up the appeal. This allowed the decision to stand on very narrow grounds without the Supreme Court needing to rule on the merit of the lower court’s decision.

So a lot of people have been saying that single-sex couples in Michigan, who are legally married under another state’s laws, ought to have their tax returns reviewed and perhaps file amended returns. I believe that this approach misinterprets the Court’s ruling. The Court decreed that the part of DOMA that says that states do not have to honor another state’s laws on marriage was constitutional. Until Michigan changes its law on marriage, single-sex married couples in Michigan will still have to file separate tax returns and will not receive the benefit of the marital deduction on their estates or for gifts.

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