HRC Blog

Recent State Court Rulings Affect LGBT Citizens in Three States

HRC Law Fellow Roddy Flynn Contributed to this Post. 

Three state courts have recently passed down rulings affecting LGBT citizens.  The cases cover varied legal issues, from the scope of a domestic partnership registry to the permissibility of a “gay panic defense.”  A brief summary of each case and decision is included below.

In June, 2009, Ryan Young met Dale Cutler at a bar in Montcalm County, Michigan.  After some drinks, Young and Cutler went back to Young’s house.  Once in the house, Cutler began to choke and beat Young into unconsciousness. 

At trial, a jury found Cutler guilty of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm and Cutler was sentenced to 11 to 25 years in prison.  The trial judge did not allow Cutler to present what has been called the “gay panic defense.   Cutler claimed that when Young made a sexual advance at Cutler, Cutler was so overwhelmed and frightened by the advance that he beat Young out of fear of imminent bodily harm.

Cutler appealed the trial judge’s decision to disallow his gay panic defense.  On June 16, 2011, the Michigan Court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.  The court found no basis for Cutler’s claim of self-defense, stating that even if Cutler was startled by Young’s advance, there was no justification for Cutler to beat Young into unconsciousness.  

The Court of Appeals decision may be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Full text of the opinion is available at:


On June 6, 2011, the Wyoming Supreme Court held that state courts have jurisdiction to hear divorce proceedings of a same-sex couple who were legally married in Canada.  The high court’s decision overruled a trial court decision which found that a Wyoming statute limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples prevented the court from granting the divorce. 

Justice Michael Golden, who authored the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision, said that Wyoming law requires the state court to give effect to all “marriage contracts which are valid by the laws of the country in which contracted….”  Justice Golden found no conflict between this statute and the state ban on same-sex marriage, noting that granting a divorce does not give any of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

In a footnote, Justice Golden noted that, “Nothing in this opinion should be taken as applying to the recognition of same-sex marriages legally solemnized in a foreign jurisdiction in any context other than divorce.”

Full text of the opinion is available at:


“Domestic partners have far fewer legal rights, duties, and liabilities in comparison to the legal rights, duties, and liabilities of spouses."  Sad but true, that was the rationale behind a Wisconsin judge’s ruling upholding the state’s domestic partnership law.  On June 20, 2011, Dane County Judge Daniel Moeser threw out a challenge to the law and ruled the law constitutional. 

Julaine Appling, president of the anti-equality Wisconsin Family Action, filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the domestic partnership law.  In 2006 Wisconsin voters passed an anti-marriage Constitutional Amendment, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples and preventing the state from giving same-sex couples legal status that is substantially similar to marriage.  Yet in 2009, then-Governor Jim Doyle included the domestic partnership law in the state budget, giving same-sex couples legal rights such as the right to visit each other in hospitals, make end-of-life decisions and inherit each other's property. When Wisconsin Family Action filed the lawsuit, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to defend the registry, saying it was unconstitutional, but Governor Doyle appointed private attorneys to defend the law.  Yesterday’s ruling shows that was a good decision by Doyle.  Although discrimination remains in marriage in Wisconsin, loving same-sex couples were handed a small victory.  According to Fair Wisconsin, about 1,700 couples are registered domestic partners. 

Judge Moeser’s decision may be appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Full text of the opinion is available at:

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