Government, Human Resources, and Law

Gay marriages recognized by feds

March 28, 2014
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Gay marriages recognized by feds
Stephanie Myott. Courtesy Rhoades McKee

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that the federal government will recognize the same-sex marriages performed in Michigan last Saturday.

Federal recognition

Holder addressed the Michigan case in a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.

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

"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. 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.

“Last June’s decision by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor was a victory for equal protection under the law and a historic step toward equality for all American families. The Department of Justice continues to work with its federal partners to implement this decision across the government. And we will remain steadfast in our commitment to realizing our country’s founding ideals of equality, opportunity and justice for all.”

Impact on couples

“The federal government recognizing same-sex marriages performed in Michigan on Saturday means that those couples will be able to enjoy 1,138 federal benefits associated with marriage, which cover such areas as Social Security, taxation and COBRA benefits,” explained Stephanie Myott, an attorney at Rhoades McKee in Grand Rapids.

Myott added that Michigan same-sex couples who married in another state were already able to receive these federal benefits.

Impact on businesses

The decision could also impact any Michigan employers that have employees who were among the more than 300 couples married on Saturday.

Federal agencies operating in Michigan could also be impacted, as well as any company that has retirement plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, according to Ric Roane, an attorney at Warner Norcross & Judd in Grand Rapids.

“Private employers with pension benefit plans need to recognize the validity of these marriages for federal purposes,” Roane said.

“Employers, for 2014, may need to make changes on withholding. This impacts them right away. They may have to make a change to their withholding if they’ve been withholding as a single and now they can be withholding as a married couple with two exemptions. It changes your W-4 form in the HR department at the affected companies.”

Patchwork of laws

The affected employers now have to navigate the differing federal and state laws regarding the marriages.

“We still have a patchwork of treatment though, because the federal government will recognize the marriage, but the state must not recognize the marriage,” Roane said. “It can be confusing to employers, because there are federal benefits and state benefits affecting the same employee, and the employer has got to sort through what to do to be in compliance with the federal laws and the state laws, and they aren’t always consistent with each other.” 

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