LANSING, Mich. — Michigan will recognize more than 300 same-sex marriages that were quickly performed in the hours before an appeals court blocked a ruling legalizing the unions, Gov. Rick Snyder announced Wednesday.
The Republican said he wouldn't appeal a federal court's ruling last month that required the state to recognize the marriages performed on March 22, 2014. His decision means the ruling takes effect Thursday and could have an impact on the couples' health insurance coverage, their ability to jointly adopt children and other state benefits.
"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.
A different federal judge struck down Michigan's 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage on March 21. Same-sex couples in four counties married the next day, before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages.
Eight couples who married later asked a judge to validate their marriages. On Jan. 15, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled in their favor, saying the couples "acquired a status that state officials may not ignore, absent some compelling interest." He put his decision on hold for 21 days to give the state time to appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month also decided to consider the broader issue of the legality of bans on same-sex marriage in Michigan and three other states. Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette — who has defended Michigan's law in court — recently began deferring questions about an appeal of Goldsmith's decision to Snyder, the main official named in the couples' lawsuit.
"I appreciate that the larger question will be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court this year," Snyder said. "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."
His announcement came a day after Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Snyder, urging him not to appeal.
Glenna DeJong and her wife, Marsha Caspar, were the first same-sex couple to marry in Michigan, at the Ingham County clerk's office in Mason south of Lansing, after the March ruling. On Wednesday, DeJong said the governor's decision was "a long time coming."
DeJong said she and her spouse are part of an exclusive club of same-sex married couples, "but we aim to be members of an inclusive club that everyone can join.
"Our case was about the right to remain married. We were legally married. There are still thousands of couples across Michigan and the United States that still cannot get married," she said. "The fight certainly isn't over."
State Rep. Gary Glenn, one of the drafters of the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, said he's disappointed with Snyder's decision.
"I believe the governor's duty is to uphold the constitution of the state of Michigan and to the people of Michigan, not to a single federal judge," the Midland Republican said.
A spokesman for the Michigan Catholic Conference — which also backs the law — said the group's focus is on the Supreme Court, which it hopes will uphold the ban.
But Frank Colasonti Jr. said he now gets to name his husband, James B. Ryder, as a beneficiary and survivor for insurance purposes. The Birmingham couple married at the Oakland County clerk's office in Pontiac, north of Detroit.
"Emotionally, it takes a great weight off our shoulders," Colasonti said. "It's been anxiety-producing ... emotional for us to not feel completely married. We've been in limbo."
Lisa Ulrey, 35, and Donna Demarco, 58, also were among the couples to marry in March. They said they'll now look to filing joint income taxes and have a better feeling about getting joint legal custody of their 16-year-old daughter.
"It means more than just taxes," Ulrey said. "It's the Social Security and relief. It opens the door for a lot of the rights we deserve.
"We're happy the 300 got recognized and this paves the way for the thousands of couples in Michigan that — hopefully — can legally do this."