Late Friday afternoon, a federal district court struck down Michigan’s ban on marriage equality and chose not to issue a stay that would have left the old law in place. Same-sex marriages, the Reagan-appointed judge ruled, could begin immediately.
And on Saturday morning, that’s exactly what happened, with several clerks going to work on their day off to perform marriages for same-sex couples, now able to enjoy the same rights as other Michigan citizens. The progress, however, was short lived – an appeals court halted the marriages and said Michigan’s law would remain in place during the appeals process.
But while the legal process unfolds, a lingering question remains: what becomes of the same-sex marriages that were held between the district court ruling and the appeals court stay? As far as Michigan is concerned, what’s the status of those 300 or so couples?
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has spent the last few days telling the public he will not share his opinion on marriage equality. He presumably has a position on the issue, but the governor apparently considers it a secret position that he doesn’t want to share with his constituents. That said, we received a pretty big hint this afternoon.
Michigan’s government will not recognize roughly 300 same-sex marriages that took place over the weekend before an appeals court reinstated the state’s ban on such unions, Gov. Rick Snyder announced on Wednesday.The decision means gay couples will not be eligible to receive any state spousal benefits or apply for joint adoption – a privilege reserved for only married, heterosexual couples in the state.
“In accordance with the law, the U.S. Circuit Court’s stay has the effect of suspending the benefits of marriage until further court rulings are issued on this matter,” Snyder said in a statement. “The couples with certificates of marriage from Michigan courthouses last Saturday were legally married and the marriage was valid when entered into. Because the stay brings Michigan law on this issue back into effect, the rights tied to these marriages are suspended until the stay is lifted or Judge Friedman’s decision is upheld on appeal.”
This appears to be an awkward effort to thread a narrow needle.
Let’s see if I have this straight. On Saturday morning, if two consenting adults wanted to get legally married in Michigan, they could do so. A few hundred couples did exactly that – tying the knot and getting a marriage license.
Today, their governor decided these couples are, in fact, married, but he’s also decided they’re not able to receive any of the benefits of marriage.
Why not? Because he and his lawyers say so.
So if a man and a woman were married in Michigan on Saturday morning, they’re still married and they can enjoy all of the legal benefits associated with marriage. If two women were married in Michigan on Saturday morning, they’re also still married, but their state will not extend any of the legal benefits associated with marriage.
They’ll have to wait for a ruling from the 6th Circuit, which may or may not side in support of equal rights for all.
As for whether these 300 or so Michigan couples will receive legal recognition from the federal government, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has not yet issued a statement on this, but when similar circumstances unfolded in Utah, Holder told the couples their marriages would be “recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”