Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday that the state will recognize 300 same-sex marriages carried out during a flurry of ceremonies last year.
Snyder (R) said that the state would not appeal a federal judge’s ruling last month saying that these couples were married under the law and must be given the same benefits as any other couples, even as he noted that a looming Supreme Court decision would determine whether other marriages could occur in the state down the line.
“The judge has determined that same-sex couples were legally married on that day, and we will follow the law and extend state marriage benefits to those couples,” Snyder said in a statement.
The couples were married during a brief, hectic window last March. A federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on a Friday, which was followed by hundreds of couples hurrying to courthouses the following day to recite marriage vows. Four county clerks had added Saturday hours to allow couples to get married.
A federal appeals court then put the ruling on hold, while an appeals court announced an indefinite stay shortly thereafter, preventing any new marriages from taking place; a circuit court later upheld the state’s ban, as well.
But for the 300 couples that were married, Snyder said that although they were legal unions, the state would not give them same-sex benefits. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. followed this by saying that the federal government would recognize the marriages.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith ruled that the state has to recognize these marriages. In his order, Goldsmith called Michigan’s refusal to recognize the marriages “unprecedented,” and he noted that this specific circumstance involved the right to maintain “lawfully acquired” marital status, rather than the right to get married in the first place.
Snyder’s announcement that he would not appeal Goldsmith’s ruling comes as the Supreme Court prepares to take up the issue of same-sex marriage in the spring. The justices announced last month that they will consider cases from Michigan and three other states in determining whether same-sex couples in all states should be allowed to get married.
“I appreciate that the larger question will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court this year,” Snyder said. “This is an issue that has been divisive across our country. Our nation’s highest court will decide this issue.”
The justices had previously acted on same-sex marriage in 2013, with a slim majority saying that states where same-sex marriage is legal must give all couples, gay or straight, the same benefits. This decision was followed by a wave of court action across the country as bans on same-sex marriage were struck down. As a result, 70 percent of Americans now live in states that allow same-sex marriage.
“I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue, and it’s vitally important for an expedient resolution that will allow people in Michigan, as well as other states, to move forward together on the other challenges we face,” Snyder said.
When the Supreme Court decided to take up the issue again in January, the justices accepted cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Oral arguments are expected in April, and a decision is anticipated in June.