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Holder: Obama administration will recognize same-sex marriages in Michigan

The government said on Friday it would recognize same-sex marriages carried out last week in Michigan, making the couples entitled to appropriate federal benefits. But an appeal is putting couples in limbo. (Reuters)

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday intervened in another state legal battle over gay marriage, announcing that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages recently performed in Michigan.

Three-hundred same-sex couples married in Michigan over the weekend before a federal appeals court granted a stay to stop the weddings from being performed. Democrats in Michigan’s congressional delegation, led by Rep. Daniel Kildee, had called on Holder to recognize the marriages as legal under federal law.

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

Holder took similar action in January when he announced that the federal government recognized more than 1,300 marriages of same-sex couples in Utah that took place in December. In January, the Supreme Court halted the same-sex marriages by staying a decision by a U.S. district judge, who ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the Constitution.

In Michigan, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit announced in a 2 to 1 decision that it had placed an indefinite stay on the marriages pending appeal. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder (R), said that while Michigan recognizes the marriages as legal, the state will not give the same-sex couples state benefits unless the court’s stay is lifted.

Same-sex marriage status in the U.S., state-by-state

“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,” Holder said. “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.”

Six Democratic members of Congress from Michigan wrote Holder, urging the Justice Department to recognize the marriages. None of the Republicans in the Michigan delegation signed the letter.

“The Court’s decision was a historic step toward equal protection for all American families, regardless of sexual orientation,” the lawmakers wrote. “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.”

The Justice Department has been working since June to carry out the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor, which held that same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law. The court’s ruling required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages from states where they are legal.

Last month, Holder instructed all Justice Department employees across the country to give lawful same-sex marriages equal protection under the law in every program the department administers.

“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,” Holder said Friday. “The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government.”

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.

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