US Attorney General says federal government will recognize Michigan same-sex marriages

Mar 28, 2014

The federal government will recognize the marriages of 300 gay and lesbian couples performed last weekend in Michigan before more weddings were blocked by an appeals court. That means they will be able file joint federal tax returns and share federal government benefits.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder
Credit U.S. Dept. of Education

“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government,” Holder said in a written statement.  “These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages.”

Holder noted that he made the same decision when roughly 1,000 gay and lesbian couples were wed in Utah over 17 days before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay.

In Michigan, the couples were married over several hours on Saturday in four counties where clerks opened their doors. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals put a stop to it with a stay issued late in the day. Briefs in the appeal are due in May and June with oral arguments sometime after that.

Despite Holder’s decision, Michigan will not follow suit.

“This is not something where it’s necessarily discretionary,” said Gov. Rick Snyder.

“The issue is in Michigan, they were legally married on that Saturday. But given the fact the stay came, there was no other real option but to say we have to suspend the benefits.”

But he says the disconnect between the state and federal positions is a problem.

“I appreciate it can be difficult on people, though, because it does raise confusion and challenges,” he said.

For one thing, couples that file joint federal tax returns won’t be able to file corresponding state returns.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates for same-sex marriage say otherwise. They say the 300-plus marriages were legal when they occurred, and the state cannot effectively rescind that.

“The law at the time these people got married was they’re permitted to marry,” said Jay Kaplan of the ACLU.  “The governor’s hands are not tied behind his back.”

Kaplan says the ACLU is ready to go to court to get the state to grant those couples all the rights and privileges of being married while the case is on appeal. That case could be filed in the next week or two.