Although more than 300 same-sex couples married in Michigan Saturday in the brief window before a federal appeals court placed a stay on Friday's ruling that struck down the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, those couples won't be able to access benefits usually granted by the state, according to Michigan's Republican governor.
After several days of avoiding the issue of the legality of those unions, Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday that the same-sex marriages performed Saturday are indeed legal, but that the state-issued benefits usually conferred upon newlyweds won't be available to the gay and lesbian Michiganders who married, while the state's appeal works its way through the federal courts. Those benefits include spousal health insurance, joint adoption, access to pension plans, and the ability to file joint state tax returns.
Citing Saturday evening's stay by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that effectively placed a hold on Friday's ruling esatblishing marriage equality, Snyder said his office doesn't believe it has authority to formally recognize the same-sex marriages that took place.
"Although the marriages were legal, what the stay does is it reinstates Michigan law," Snyder told a group of reporters in a video from the Detroit Free Press. "And under Michigan law, it says the state of Michigan will not recognize the fact that they're married because they're of the same sex. What we have here is a situation where the legal marriages took place on Saturday, but because of the stay, the operation of law is such that we won't recognize the benefits of that marriage until there's a removal of the stay or there's an upholding of the judge's opinion by the court of appeals or a higher court."
Although Wednesday's decision leaves the nearly 300 same-sex couples who were married during Michigan's brief equality window in legal limbo, the governor's decision isn't without precedent.
After a federal judge struck down Utah's voter-approved constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in December, more than 1,300 same-sex couples were legally wed in the weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately placed a stay on the ruling. Although those couples were married in a ceremony that was legal when it was performed, Utah's Republican governor and attorney general announced in January that the state would not recognize the marriages as such while the state appealed the initial ruling. As a result of that decision, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of the newly married same-sex couples whose families are now in legal limbo.
The ACLU is reportedly investigating the possibility of filing a similar case on behalf of the same-sex couples married in Michigan who are now being denied access to the same rights and privileges offered to other legally married couples in the state.
Watch a news report from Grand Rapids, Mich.'s WXMI below.