March 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Lawmakers seek fed’l recognition for Michigan same-sex marriages

Carl Levin, Democratic Party, Senate, Michigan, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is among the lawmakers calling for federal recognition of Michigan same-sex marriages (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

Members of Michigan’s delegation to Congress are calling on the Obama administration to recognize the more than 300 same-sex marriages that took place in the state for the purposes of federal benefits.

In a letter dated March 27, six lawmakers — led by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) — called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to recognize the marriages in the wake of a federal district court decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“The Court’s decision was a historic step toward equal protection for all American families, regardless of sexual orientation,” the lawmakers write. “By clarifying the federal status of these now married same-sex couples in Michigan—as you did in January for similarly situated same-sex couples in Utah—you can take another step toward full equality.”

Lawmakers seek federal recognition of the same-sex marriages performed on Saturday in Michigan prior to an indefinite stay placed on the weddings by the U.S. Sixth Circuit of Appeals. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican who’s seeking re-election, said Wednesday the state recognizes the marriages as legal, but won’t afford the couples state benefits unless the stay is lifted.

But the Justice Department hasn’t yet announced a decision on whether federal benefits would flow to the couples. The department didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the letter from Michigan’s federal delegation. Allison Price, a Justice Department spokesperson, had said earlier this week the administration is “closely monitoring the situation.”

Six Democratic members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress signed the letter. In addition to Kildee, Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) signed the letter as well as both U.S. senators from Michigan: Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The only Democratic member of Michigan federal delegation not to sign the letter is Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). His absence is noteworthy because he supports marriage equality and was chief sponsor of the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extended federal hate crimes protections to LGBT people. Conyers’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on why his name was absent from the letter.

None of the nine Republicans making up the 16 members of Michigan’s federal delegation to Congress signed the letter.

Mitchell Rivard, a Kildee spokesperson, deferred to the Republicans as to why their names are absent from the missive.

“The Democratic delegation, as demonstrated by today’s letter calling for federal recognition of the legal marriages performed last week, are certainly unified in standing for equality for all Michiganders,” Rivard said.

Among the couples who wed in Michigan on Saturday were Anne Callison, 37, and Kelly Callison, 34. The couple, who has a two-year-old named Corbin, married in Ann Arbor, Mich., after being been together five years.

During a conference call with reporters, Anne said recognition of her marriage is important so that Kelly has second-parent adoption rights for their son. Kelly is the egg donor for Corbin, but Anne is the birth mother.

“I would say the thing that’s the most scary is that in order for Kelly to do things like pick him up from child care…access his medical records, all of that means that I have to give permission ahead of time,” Anne said. “Kelly is a stay-at-home mom, and I am working full-time. She should be able to do those things.”

Taking issue with Snyder’s decision not to allow benefits to flow to her and her spouse, Anne said she doesn’t understand why a stay being in place halting additional same-sex marriages led to that decision.

“I’m married, I have a Michigan marriage certificate, it has a seal and witnesses,” Anne said. “I don’t know how much more legal it can get than that.”

For her part, Kelly said the lack of recognition of her marriage continues to build “stress and anxiety” for her entire family.

“We have a two-year-old son that is the center of our lives and because of Gov. Snyder not recognizing a marriage that he himself said is a legal marriage, but the state won’t recognize [it], just adds to the stress that what goes on with our daily lives,” Kelly said.

Under the current situation, Kelly said the couple carries around a notebook of documents to ensure she can make medical and other important decisions for Corbin.

In a statement, Kildee said Anne and Kelly’s union should be recognized by both the state and federal government, criticizing Snyder and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for not allowing benefits to flow to the couple.

“Legally-performed marriages like Anne and Kelly’s should be fully recognized under the law, both at the state and federal level,” Kildee said. “It’s a shame to me that Gov. Snyder and Bill Schuette continue to work around the clock to deny these committed couples the same opportunity for love and happiness that they enjoy themselves.”

The situation in Michigan is along the lines of what happened in Utah after a district court ruling enabled an estimated 1,300 same-sex couples to wed in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court halted the weddings by issuing a stay pending appeal. Gov. Gary Herbert announced his state won’t recognize the weddings pending appeal, but U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the state would recognize for the purposes of federal benefits.

Prior to Holder’s announcement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin wrote a letter to the attorney general, saying there’s no need to think the Utah marriages are invalid.

The Human Rights Campaign issued an organizational statement late Thursday calling for the federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in Michigan.

“The Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder has been a remarkable leader in the fight for equal recognition of marriage for lesbian and gay couples,” the statement says. “Their decision to recognize marriages performed in Utah during the period when gay couples were granted licenses was legally sound and morally right. The Human Rights Campaign has encouraged the Department to apply the same principles to the Michigan marriages that happened recently and we have every reason to believe that they will continue being champions of the LGBT community.”

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

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