Michigan’s Defense of Its Same-Sex Marriage Ban Cost Taxpayers $1.9 Million

The Supreme Court’s marriage equality decisions cost a lot of states a lot of money.

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On Wednseday, Michigan agreed to pay a jaw-dropping $1.9 million of taxpayer money to attorneys who represented the gay plaintiffs who sued the state—successfully—to secure their right to marry and adopt. Under federal law, plaintiffs who sue the government to vindicate their civil rights and win in court are entitled to attorneys’ fees. The lead lawyer in the case, Carole Stanyar, spent four years fighting to bring down the state’s anti-gay laws—without pay. She was awarded $763,875, praising the compensation law as an effective way to “empower and encourage the vindication of civil rights.”


Every state that chose to defend its discriminatory marriage laws wound up paying out a pretty serious sum. As Al Jazeera America reported, Kentucky paid gay rights attorneys $2.1 million; Pennsylvania, $1.5 million; Wisconsin, $1.05 million; Virginia, $580,000. Several states, including Florida ($700,000), are still fighting these fees in court. And for the most part, these figures don’t factor in the money states spent on their own attorneys, who were tasked with defending blatantly unconstitutional laws. 

Many of these states have, one hopes, learned their lesson from these payouts, and will no longer fight to deprive gay people of their constitutional rights. Mississippi, however, is not so chastened. Somehow, the state still has an anti-gay adoption ban on the books, and has decided, against the odds, to defend it in court. Looks like Mississippi taxpayers aren’t quite done compensating gay rights attorneys.