March 26, 2014 at 4:27 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Snyder suspends benefits for Michigan same-sex marriages

Rick Snyder, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.) won’t recognize same-sex marriages performed in Michigan (Photo by Major.guy2012; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced on Wednesday his state won’t afford benefits to the same-sex couples who married in his state over the weekend until the courts lift a stay on the weddings as litigation moves forward.

Still, Snyder acknowledged the more than 300 same-sex weddings that took place on Saturday were legally valid.

“After comprehensive legal review of state law and all recent court rulings, we have concluded that same-sex couples were legally married at county clerk offices in the time period between U.S. District Judge [Friedman’s] ruling and the Sixth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporary stay of that ruling,” Snyder said in a statement.

But Snyder continued the state will suspend benefits afforded to the couples “in accordance with the law” until the stay on the weddings from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is lifted.

“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,” Snyder said.

Same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses over the weekend in Ingham, Washtenaw, Muskegon and Oakland counties after a district court ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Snyder and Michigan Attorney Bill Schuette appealed the ruling to Sixth Circuit and asked judges to halt the weddings with a stay, which was granted Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which reportedly had threatened to sue if the Michigan doesn’t recognize the same-sex marriages, said Wednesday the organization is looking at options.

“As a matter of law and fundamental fairness, the state is obligated to extend all the rights and responsibilities that flow from marriage to the more than 300 couples married this weekend,” Rana Elmir said. “Doing anything less violates our laws, treats legally married gay and lesbian couples like second-class citizens, and adds to the confusion and instability these loving families have had to endure. We will continue to explore legal options on behalf of these couples and encourage those who have been denied the benefits of marriage to contact us.”

But Elmir said her organization is pleased that Snyder said the unions are legally valid because that “opens the door” for federal recognition of the marriages. She said the Obama adminstration should “absolutely” recognize the unions because “there is no doubt that these marriages are valid.”

The question still lingers over whether the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Michigan. In Utah, when a district court ruling enabled 1,300 same-sex couples to wed before a stay was instituted by the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Gary Herbert said his state won’t recognize the unions, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Attorney said they’re valid in the eyes of the Obama administration.

Allison Price, a Justice Department spokesperson, said her earlier comment that the Obama administration is “closely monitoring the situation” still stands as of Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Snyder refused to articulate his position on same-sex marriage, saying he’s focused on jobs and the economy.

“I’m not going to go back and rehash a sentence in one debate from four years ago,” Snyder said. “I’ve been focused on jobs, it’s my main message, and I’m staying consistent with that.”

According to Crain’s Detroit Business, Snyder told reporters on Wednesday that his office had to make legal decision on whether the marriages were valid on his own because Schuette didn’t respond to a request to meet.

“We did our own research,” Snyder was quoted as saying. “We believe this is the appropriate position to take.”

Joy Yearout, a Schuette spokesperson, responded to the report to the Washington Blade by saying the governor and the attorney general often speak, but those discussions are kept under wraps.

“The Department of Attorney General and the Governor’s office talk all the time,” Yearout said. “Those conversations are confidential. The Governor’s written statement speaks for itself, and as the Attorney General has said all along, these issues will ultimately be sorted out by the courts, just as they have in other states. The sooner these questions are answered, the better.”

Yearout didn’t respond to a follow-up question on whether she denies Snyder’s comments that Schuette never followed up on a request to meet about the same-sex marriages.

Snyder makes his announcement as his pursues re-election in a 2014 gubernatorial election where Democrat Mark Schauer will be his likely challenger in the general election.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) was among the Democrats criticizing Snyder for his decision not to recognize the unions in the aftermath of the announcement.

“Today Governor Rick Snyder double downed on ambivalence,” Kildee said. “As a leader, you either support equality for all loving couples or you don’t. It’s that simple. This is not a complicated question. Governor, do you support equality for all Michiganders? Or is that not on your agenda?”

Emily Dievendorf, executive director of the statewide LGBT group, Equality Michigan, also took aims at Snyder, saying she finds his actions “despicable.”

“Equality Michigan finds it despicable that a Governor claiming to stand for families, children, and the economy would side with his out-of-touch Attorney General and continue this wasteful crusade to harm Michigan families,” Dievendorf said. “The DeBoer-Rowse family and their legal team will continue to defend our families in court, and the efforts by people like East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum to get the government to recognize these marriages will not be forgotten. Equality Michigan calls on the Governor to end the second-class treatment of LGBT families in Michigan and the executive branch’s attack on marriage equality.”

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled Rep. Dan Kildee’s name and said he was criticizing Mark Schauer. The Blade regrets the error.

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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