Last week, federal district judge David Lawson's 51-page decision concluded that the challenge to Michigan's Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act on equal protection and due process grounds can proceed:
The Court concludes that the plaintiffs have standing to bring their challenge to the state statute, their claims are ripe, and abstention is not appropriate. The Court also finds that the plaintiffs have not stated a claim for which relief can be granted based on the deprivation of their right to substantive due process. However, they have stated a viable claim based on the Equal Protection Clause on which they are likely to succeed. Other factors favor issuance of a preliminary injunction.
Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim has sufficient merit to proceed. The United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Windsor has provided the requisite precedential fodder for both parties to this litigation. Defendants will no doubt cite to the relevant paragraphs of the majority opinion espousing the state’s “historic and essential authority to define the marital relation.” They will couch the popular referendum that resulted in the massage of the MMA as “a proper exercise of [the state’s] sovereign authority within our federal system, all in the way that the Framers of the Constitution intended.” After all, what could more accurately embody “[t]he dynamics of state government in the federal system…to allow the formation of consensus respecting the way the members of a discrete community treat each other in their daily contact and constant interaction with each other.” than a legitimate vote of the people of the State of Michigan to preserve their chosen definition of marriage in the fabric of the state constitution.
On the other hand, plaintiffs are prepared to claim Windsor as their own’ their briefs sure to be replete with references to the newly enthroned triumvirate of Romer v Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, and now Windsor. And why shouldn’t they? The supreme Court has just invalidated a federal statute on equal protection grounds because it “place[d] same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. Moreover, an of particular importance to this case, the justices expressed concern that the natural consequence of such discriminatory legislation would not only lead to the relegation of same-sex relationships to a form of second-tier status, but impair the rights o f “tens of thousands of children no being raised by same-sex couples” as well. This is exactly the type of harm plaintiffs seek to remedy in this case.