Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) has been walking a narrow line since Federal Judge Bernard Friedman found that his state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the US Constitution. Although Snyder is on tape stating in 2010 that he believed marriage to be “between a man and a woman”, he is now insisting that he has no public opinion on the matter and will go by whatever the courts decide.
Snyder is trying to differentiate himself from the state’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette (R), who has appealed the decision and on whose behest the court has issued a stay. He’s trying to play the role of spectator, an uninterested party who will do as directed.
And, as a practical matter, he is. Other than as cheerleader in either direction, his views are immaterial to the outcome.
But Snyder does have one significant role in the process. He will decide whether or not the State of Michigan will honor those marriages that occurred between the ruling and the stay.
Of course the courts can overrule Snyder’s decision, whatever it may be. But should he decide to honor the marriages, it will eliminate delay and ease the transition. And it is unlikely that a court would overturn such a decision or even that anyone has standing to appeal it.
And on that matter, Snyder is walking softly: (MLive)
“I appreciate that it’s a confusing circumstance, and I would like to provide some clarity, but I need to do that based on legal advice,” Snyder told reporters after an unrelated event in Lansing. “We’re going through that analysis at this time.”
The legal status of those marriage licenses is in question, and a three-judge 6th Circuit panel did not offer any clarification on Tuesday when they extended the stay pending the outcome of an appeal by Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Press Secretary Sara Wurfel said the Snyder administration is prepared to offer guidance to same-sex couples who obtained licenses as soon as a legal analysis is complete. That could be later Wednesday, or it could be later in the week.
Wurfel said the governor’s legal team is examining whether the state should recognize those marriage licenses for tax purposes, adoption and more. Michigan does not currently recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.
“Legal advice” could go either way. But, to speculate, I think the likelier course is that Snyder’s legal team will find that legally married couples are legally married.
There’s very little political downside to recognizing marriages that have occurred. And Snyder, who seems to have no fire in his belly over social issue has mostly shied away from contentious issues, expressing a desire to focus on jobs and the economy.
And the risk of opposing recognition is high. Michigan is a purple state in which a majority supports marriage equality. Should he refuse to recognize marriage – only to be overruled by a court – it could make him appear to be an intransigent right-winger in a year in which he is seeking reelection.
UPDATE: Snyder opposes recognition.