Federal government to recognize same-sex marriage in Michigan

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 28, 2014 12:37pm EDT

Newly married Sarah Brown (L) and Dolly Vanfossan hold their marriage license outside after being married at the Oakland County Courthouse, after a Michigan federal judge ruled a ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and must be overturned in Pontiac, Michigan March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Newly married Sarah Brown (L) and Dolly Vanfossan hold their marriage license outside after being married at the Oakland County Courthouse, after a Michigan federal judge ruled a ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and must be overturned in Pontiac, Michigan March 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The government said on Friday it would recognize same-sex marriages carried out last week in Michigan but left in limbo by a court appeal, making the couples entitled to appropriate federal benefits.

More than 300 couples were married last Saturday, a day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman lifted Michigan's same-sex marriage ban, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution.

The state appealed the ruling later on Saturday and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said the newly-weds would not receive state benefits of marriage until the matter is settled in court.

Same-sex marriage is now recognized in 17 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement in Washington on Friday that the marriages performed on Saturday would be recognized by the federal government.

"These families will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages," he said.

While their recognition by their state is in question, the couples will have access to federal benefits including joint tax filings, social security benefits, and legal immigration status for foreign partners.

The Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization that advocates for the gay community, welcomed Holder's decision.

It said in a statement he had "demonstrated his steadfast commitment to equality and upholding the core values of the U.S. Constitution by affirming federal recognition of these marriages."

The Justice Department has taken similar positions to uphold federal recognition of same-sex marriage, established by the Supreme Court last summer in the landmark United States v. Windsor case.

In January, Holder announced the federal government would recognize same-sex marriages in Utah, which were also under dispute.

(Writing by Doina Chiacu and Julia Edwards; Editing by David Storey and Sofina Mirza-Reid)