WASHINGTON â€” The federal government will recognize the marriages of about 300 same-sex couples in Michigan performed Saturday before a federal appeals court put a stay on such ceremonies in the state, the U.S. attorney general said Friday.
Despite U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ stay placed on the ceremonies, couples married in the hours before the stay “will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
“These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages,” Holder said in the statement, adding that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder “has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into.”
At least for now, couples married Saturday in four counties in Michigan â€” Ingham, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw â€” will have the same standing regarding federal income and estate tax benefits, as well as any other federal rights, afforded other married couples. But a court could eventually reject that standing.
“For the purpose of federal law, those marriages would be valid,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “State recognition is still on hold.”
Holder noted that Snyder has said the state does not plan to extend state rights and benefits to those couples until the legalities of same-sex marriages in Michigan are sorted out in the courts.
Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation had called on Holder to recognize the marriages where clerks opened their offices Saturday, issued marriage licenses and performed nuptial ceremonies.
They did so after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled late the previous day that Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, opening the door to the Saturday ceremonies. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed that decision, and by Saturday afternoon, a panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the ruling.
Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who issued 57 marriage licenses Saturday and married 54 of those people, also sent a letter to Holder asking for the federal recognition.
“I’m so thankful to U.S. Attorney General Holder for the recognition for all of these people married on Saturday,” she said Friday.
Lawyer Dana Nessel, who represented the Michigan nurses who successfully challenged the state’s gay-marriage ban, called the federal government’s pro-marriage equality stance “magnificent.”
“We expected no less. The federal government has been great,” Nessel said. “I stand my previous position that they are all legally married, just like any others.”
Nessel also lambasted the governor and state attorney general for continuing to fight to keep same-sex marriage illegal in Michigan. She said Snyder is especially contradictory: On the one hand he has acknowledged that the 300 marriages are legal, but he still refuses to recognize them.
“It’s so offensive on a number of levels, particularly on a legal level,” she said.
The stay was extended Tuesday. The case could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Holder’s decision mirrors one that he took on same-sex marriages in Utah, where 1,000 same-sex couples were married during a 17-day period before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on a lower court ruling in that state.
“Today’s recognition of these marriages by the federal government is welcome news,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint Township who was one of those asking Holder to recognize the Michigan marriages. “These legally married and loving couples shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the recognition and benefits they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution,”
“It’s my hope that Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette will also drop their appeals in this matter and recognize the inherent rights of these Michiganders to love and marry one another,” he said.