More than 300 gay and lesbian couples in Michigan are legally married now that Governor Rick Snyder has decided not to contest a court order. It says the state has to recognize the marriages that took place last spring.
But, the state will continue to defend the same-sex marriage ban in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was Snyder’s call whether the state would appeal after a federal judge ruled that more than 300 same-sex couples are legally married and told the state to treat them as married.
Here’s what he said after that decision last month: “If a federal judge has made a judgment, until that’s otherwise appealed, changed, or modified, we’ll respect what a federal judge is saying.”
He said, in a written statement, it would be best to simply recognize the marriages while the case plays out:
The judge has determined that same-sex couples were legally married on that day, and we will follow the law and extend state marriage benefits to those couples.
I appreciate that the larger question will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court this year. This is an issue that has been divisive across our country. Our nation’s highest court will decide this issue. I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and it’s vitally important for an expedient resolution that will allow people in Michigan, as well as other states, to move forward together on the other challenges we face.
That was welcome news to Glenna DeJonge.
"I’m glad that the state has finally backed down and decided not to appeal," she said. "There are real people and real issues, real faces behind this."
DeJonge called her partner, her now-recognized wife, Marsha Caspar, at work with the news, and they made plans.
Maybe a margarita to celebrate, and, in a day or two, hit the Secretary of State’s office to put their cars in both their names.
Married couples get a break on their insurance rates.
DeJonge says she and Caspar tried that once already after they became the first same-sex couple to be married in Michigan last March.
"Funny enough, they asked if we were family and we said , 'yes, we’re married,' and gave them our marriage certificate. They said, 'nope, we can’t recognize that.'"
For the newly-recognized married couples, the decision also means filing joint tax returns, maybe adopting children together, shared insurance benefits, and inheritance rights, says Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Any state benefits, rights, responsibilities associated with a legal marriage, the state has to provide them, has to recognize that marriage."
DeJonge and Caspar were married over a roughly 12-hour period on March 22 last year, when four county clerks in Michigan opened their doors on a Saturday to conduct weddings for same-sex couples. That was right after a federal judge struck down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban but before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on the decision.
The Sixth Circuit eventually upheld same-sex marriage bans in Michigan and three other states. Those cases are now before the United States Supreme Court – where the state of Michigan is still defending its ban on same-sex marriage.
Supporters of the ban say the governor’s decision to recognize the 300 marriages is out of step with that position.
“Something that’s the subject of law is illegal one minute, then legal for the next 12 hours and then illegal again. I think that kind of confusion breeds disrespect for the law,” says Gary Glenn.
He led the ballot campaign just over a decade ago to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. He’s now a freshman Republican state representative, and he says Governor Snyder should have fought the judge’s ruling.
"So I wish the governor had decided to aggressively defend the constitution and the vote of the people of Michigan," said Glenn.
The decision by Snyder and the federal judge does not mean out-of-state same-sex marriages will now be recognized in Michigan, or that more gay and lesbian marriages will be allowed before the Supreme Court rules on the larger question of whether people in same-sex relationships have the right to get married.
This case had a narrower focus – it was about whether same-sex couples with a legal Michigan wedding certificate have the right to stay married.