LANSING, Mich â€” Michigan’s governor said the nearly 300 same-sex marriages performed Saturday in the state are legal, but
Michigan won’t recognize them
because of a stay put on a judicial decision that would allow for the unions.
“With respect to the marriages, we believe those are legal and valid marriages,” Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday. “The stay being issued makes it more complicated.
“Because of the stay, we won’t recognize the benefits of the marriage until there’s a removal of the stay,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to provide some clarity, at least from our perspective, relatively soon.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage liked that the governor said their marriages are legal but were dismayed that they won’t be able to derive any benefits, such as adoption rights and filing of joint income tax returns, from the state.
About 300 same-sex couples got married early Saturday in four Michigan counties after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on Friday struck down a 2004 state constitutional amendment that says marriage is between a man and a woman. But judges at the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary stay of the ruling the next day and later extended the pause indefinitely.
The appeals court could take months to affirm or reject Friedman’s opinion. Next year, the Supreme Court is expected to deal with the issue.
Snyder acknowledged that the issue of same-sex marriage and benefits is confusing and difficult to navigate. His staffers called state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office for legal guidance but ended up doing their own research.
His announcement drew the prospect of legal action against the state as well as swift criticism from Democrats and advocates for gay marriage.
“You can’t have it both ways!” state Rep. Kate Segal, a Democrat from Battle Creek, Mich., tweeted.
The only tweet from the governor’s Twitter account, @onetoughnerd, mentioned that same-sex couples wed March 22 were legally married, not that he would keep benefits and rights of marriage from them. A link to a three-paragraph press release provided the details.
“The statement by the governor is extremely confusing for those of us who are legally married but not legally recognized by the state of Michigan,” said Frank Colasonti, 61. The Birmingham, Mich., resident married his longtime partner Saturday. “It’s a political statement.”
Alexi Chapin-Smith, who married Jennifer Chapin-Smith on Saturday in Washtenaw County, is frustrated with the latest development though she saw it coming.
“We knew there was a limited window of time to do this,” she said. “And it really makes me angry because there we were, lined up outside with blankets and folding chairs like it’s a Black Friday sale. What kind of state requires its citizens to treat their legal rights like a Black Friday sale, and then they don’t even deliver on the door busters?”
She brought her marriage license into work Monday so she could add her spouse to her health insurance. But because Alexi Chapin-Smith works for the state, her partner of 14 years won’t be getting her health benefits â€” at least not for a while.
Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan, said he’s pleased that Snyder is not recognizing the marriages.
“We call on the governor to enforce Michigan’s Marriage Protection Act,” the 2004 referendum that amended the constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, Glenn said. It passed with 59% of the vote.
State Rep. John Walsh, a Republican from Livonia, Mich., said Snyder made the right call on a difficult issue.
“I’ve always been supportive of civil union, but what I struggle with is my Catholic religion and marriage as a sacrament,” he said. “Look at generations. I’m 52 and I have some open mindedness, but I’m still working through my religious convictions. People older than me aren’t there yet, and people younger than me are far, far further along.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan said it is investigating legal challenges to Snyder’s decision.
“It’s a real head scratcher that the governor plans to deny rights that all other married couples are entitled to under state law,” said Jay Kaplan, lawyer for the ACLU. “That shamefully treats same sex couples as second-class citizens.”
Snyder deflected questions Wednesday about his own views on same-sex marriage, saying he wanted to focus on jobs and the economy.
“There’s always economic issues associated with most everything, but … my primary focus is on job creation and the overall economy,” he said.
Contributing: Eric Lawrence and Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press