Michigan won't recognize same-sex marriages, Gov. announces

Same-sex couples get married in a group ceremony at the Oakland County Courthouse on March 22, 2014 in Pontiac, Mich.
Same-sex couples get married in a group ceremony at the Oakland County Courthouse on March 22, 2014 in Pontiac, Mich.

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.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to clarify whether the federal government will honor the Michigan marriages, saying only through his spokeswoman that the Justice Department has been “closely monitoring the situation.” If history is any indication, however, Michigan's gay couples have reason to be optimistic about their standing with the U.S. government. After Utah’s governor declared that his administration would not be honoring approximately 1,000 same-sex marriages that took place before the Supreme Court reinstated that state’s ban, Holder announced that for purposes of federal law, those marriages would be “recognized as lawful and considered eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”

Snyder’s announcement came one day after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals extended its hold on a federal ruling striking down the state’s decade-old ban on same-sex marriage. Last week, Judge Bernard Friedman found that Michigan’s 2004 voter-approved amendment violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection. Because he did not issue an immediate stay on the effects of his ruling, gay couples were able to receive marriage licenses for a brief period on Saturday, before the Sixth Circuit intervened. Tuesday’s decision further halted same-sex unions until the appeals process plays out months from now.

"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,” said Snyder 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."

Dana Nessel, one of the attorneys challenging the state’s ban, told the Associated Press she was outraged with Snyder’s position.

“I think each one of those couples should be furious right now,” she said, “and I'm very hopeful that those couples will petition the court on their own behalf.”

The case in question was filed on behalf of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two women barred from adopting each other’s children because they could not wed. Judge Friedman’s decision followed nine days of heated testimony that centered on whether or not gay people could parent as well as their straight counterparts.