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US recognizes Michigan same-sex couple marriages

March 28, 2014

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday extended federal recognition to the marriages of about 300 same-sex couples that took place in Michigan before a federal appeals court put those unions on hold.

Holder’s action will enable the government to extend eligibility for federal benefits to the Michigan couples who married Saturday, which means they can file federal taxes jointly, get federal pension benefits for spouses and request legal immigration status for partners, among other benefits.

The attorney general said the families should not be asked to endure uncertainty regarding their benefits while courts decide the issue of same-sex marriage in Michigan. Holder did the same thing in Utah, where more than 1,000 same-sex couples got married before the U.S. Supreme Court put those unions on hold in January after a federal judge overturned the conservative state’s same-sex marriage ban in December.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., issue licenses for same-sex marriages. Since December, bans on gay marriage also have been overturned by courts in Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.

Both sides of the debate expect the U.S. Supreme Court to ultimately resolve the issue.

Holder’s decision came a week after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman in Detroit struck down the gay marriage ban and two days after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder called last weekend’s marriages legal but said Michigan won’t recognize them.

Snyder told reporters following an unrelated bill signing in Lansing that Holder’s actions weren’t a surprise “because of the situation in Utah and the position he took there.”

However, it does “create more complexity,” Snyder said. ”... I’m sure we’ll get a number of questions that we’ll need to sort out about between the interrelationship of state and federal law.”

Oakland County was one of four that took the extraordinary step of granting licenses Saturday just hours before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ordered a temporary halt. The stay was extended indefinitely Tuesday.

The federal appeals court acted on a request from Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who defended Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

Gov. Snyder, a Republican, acknowledged Wednesday that same-sex couples “had a legal marriage.” But because of the court’s stay, he added, the gay marriage ban has been restored. That closed the door, at least for now, to certain state benefits reserved solely for married couples. The American Civil Liberties Union has said more than 1,000 Michigan laws are tied to marriage.

In Virginia, a lawyer defending the state’s ban said Friday that the federal judge who overturned it usurped the state’s authority to decide whether same-sex unions should be allowed,

David B. Oakley, an attorney for court clerks in Norfolk and Prince William County, also said if the door is opened to same-sex marriage “it will not be long before other groups come knocking,” including unions between close relatives.

The court clerks are appealing last month’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for two same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit will respond in writing next month, and a three-judge panel of the appeals court will hear arguments in May.

In Ohio, a gay married couple who had trouble getting family coverage under President Barack Obama’s new federal health care law said Friday they have voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban.

And in Florida, a coalition of black and Hispanic civil rights groups and pastors is defending the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

They are challenging the grounds of a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the ban. The groups said Friday that the effort to overturn the ban threatens to violate the rights of the Florida voters who approved the ban by a wide margin in November 2008.

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Associated Press writer Emma Fidel in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.