March 28, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Obama admin to recognize Michigan same-sex marriages
Eric Holder, United States Justice Department, Barack Obama Administration, Lincoln Memorial, the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, civil rights, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced the federal government will recognize Michigan same-sex marriages (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The marriages of same-sex couples who wed in Michigan when marriage equality was briefly allowed in the state will be recognized for federal purposes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday.

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

More than 300 same-sex couples wed in Michigan on Saturday after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriages. But after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision and requested a stay, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals indefinitely halted the weddings pending appeal of the lawsuit.

Snyder announced the marriages were legal under state law, but couples will receive no state benefits until the stay is lifted. As they criticized Snyder for withholding the state benefits, Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress called on the Obama administration to deem the marriages valid for the purposes of federal recognition.

In his statement announcing the decision, Holder noted a similar situation in which he deemed same-sex marriages performed in Utah were valid in the eyes of the Obama administration.

“For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled,” Holder said.

After a federal court struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples wed in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings with stay pending appeal. Gov. Gary Herbert announced he wouldn’t recognize the weddings, but Holder announced they would be valid at the federal level.

The Human Rights Campaign, which had also called for federal recognition of the Michigan same-sex marriages, praised Holder in an organizational statement.

“Last week 300 committed and loving same-sex couples were legally wed in Michigan,” the statement says. “As such they deserve the recognition and treatment that all other married couples receive. Attorney General Eric Holder has once again demonstrated his steadfast commitment to equality and upholding the core values of the U.S. Constitution by affirming federal recognition of these marriages.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who organized a letter to Holder seeking federal benefits for married same-sex couples, called the development “welcome news” and turned to Snyder for additional action.

“These legally married and loving couples shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the recognition and benefits they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution,” Kildee said. “It’s my hope that Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette will also drop their appeals in this matter and recognize the inherent rights of these Michiganders to love and marry one another.”

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act, Holder said the Justice Department continues to work to ensure same-sex marriages are recognized under federal law.

“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 said. “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.”

Holder’s full statement follows:

STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER
ON FEDERAL RECOGNITION OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGES IN MICHIGAN
 
WASHINGTON—Attorney General Eric Holder issued the following statement today on the status of same-sex marriages performed in the state of Michigan:
“I have determined that the same-sex marriages performed last Saturday in Michigan will be recognized by the federal government.  These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages. The Governor of Michigan has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into, although Michigan will not extend state rights and benefits tied to these marriages pending further legal proceedings.  For purposes of federal law, as I announced in January with respect to similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah, these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled.
 
“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.  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.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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