The federal government will officially recognize about 300 same-sex couples in Michigan who wed before such marriages were put on hold by the courts, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Friday.
Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban but refused to issue the stay. That allowed about 300 couples to marry on Saturday before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ordered a temporary halt the same day by issuing an emergency stay. The appeals court on Tuesday then made the stay permanent, pending a review of the case.
That left the 300 couples who married in a legal limbo. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called the marriages legal but said the state wouldn't recognize them.
Holder's move on Friday means that the couples will be treated as married for federal purposes. For example, they can jointly file federal taxes, get spousal Social Security benefits and seek legal immigration status for a partner.
"I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government," Holder said in a prepared statement. "These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages."
Holder said Michigan couples should not have to go through a period of uncertainty about their status while the legality of same-sex marriage in Michigan is being decided by a higher court. The attorney general took a similar action in Utah where more than 1,000 same-sex couples married before the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay blocking a federal court ruling allowing same-sex marriage in that conservative state.
In his statement, Holder again backed same-sex marriage, which has gained steam after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That action has led to a spate of lawsuits in about a dozen states seeking to topple bans on same-sex marriage.
"Last June's decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families," Holder stated. "The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government. And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country's founding ideals of equality, opportunity, and justice for all."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage also have been overturned by courts in Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, but those cases are on hold while they are under appeal.
It is expected that the issue will eventually work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.