Same-Sex Marriage in Michigan: Couples Retain Federal Benefits

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Last week’s flip-flop on Michigan’s gay marriage ban created confusion and uncertainty amongst recently married LGBTQ couples in the state. First, a federal judge struck down Michigan’s gay marriage ban, and enforcement of the policy was ended, which led to a flood of marriages from couples eager to tie the knot. Quickly following the decision, the court of appeals issued a temporary stay and the ruling was frozen, with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstating the marriage ban through Wednesday in order to allow for time to consider the motion further.

This left the approximately 300 same-sex couples who had jumped to get married — just prior to the freeze — in a strange marital limbo, unsure of what their status and their benefits would be. On Friday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder cleared up the confusion. “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,” he said, per Time. ”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.”

So while federal benefits are available, state benefits will remain frozen until the appeal has been concluded and the decision either confirmed or tossed out. The situation isn’t unique to Michigan: Utah faced a similar conundrum in January.

Michigan’s Congress had written to Holder, asking that the Justice Department recognize the same-sex marriages — though all signatures on the letter were Democrats, and none from Republicans delegates. “The Court’s decision was a historic step towards equal protection for all American families, regardless of sexual orientation. 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,” wrote the lawmakers, according to The Washington Post.

The decision being appealed was based on the Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor, which ruled that same-sex marriages were to be given the same legal protection and treatment as heterosexual marriages and demanded that the federal government recognize said marriages in those states where they were legalized, as was the case in Michigan, for however brief a time. “Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court 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,” said Holder, according to The Washington Post.

For those that did not jump on the marriage wagon within the brief window, they’ll have to wait for Michigan’s appeal to come to a conclusion. Texas recently saw a similar striking down of its marriage ban, as did Oklahoma and several others. Appeals are a common response to rulings such as this.

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