LANSING (Detroit Free Press) -- Gov. Rick Snyder is sidestepping questions in the wake of Friday's federal court ruling declaring Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, refusing to say whether the state will recognize about 300 marriages performed Saturday before an appeals court stayed the ruling or even whether he supports Attorney General Bill Schuette's decision to appeal the case.
The issue of same-sex marriage is a touchy one for Snyder, a Republican who is up for re-election Nov. 4. Polls show the issue splits the Republican Party — which mostly opposes it — but has majority support from Independents who are important to winning a general election.
"He is trying to walk a very tricky balancing line where he doesn't anger Independents who pretty strongly support gay marriage now, while trying not to anger that 60% of his party who do not support this," said pollster Richard Czuba, CEO of the Glengariff Group, who polled Michigan voters on the same-sex marriage issue just last month.
"The governor and administration are not weighing in on these issues at this point," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said when asked whether Snyder thinks the state should recognize the marriages. Wurfel wouldn't even say whether Snyder supports Schuette's decision to appeal U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's ruling.
"I think it's a dramatic failure of leadership on the governor's part," said East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett. "This is a hotly contested issue of public policy that's being debated. To refuse to participate in a serious discussion about the ramifications of his administration's policies on this issue, I think, is irresponsible."
Wurfel says the governor doesn't want to get distracted by issues that could divert his attention from jobs and the economy.
The February Glengariff poll of 600 registered voters showed 56% support same-sex marriage and 34% oppose it. Among Republicans, support for same-sex marriage was at 31%, the poll showed, while 58% of Independents support it and 78% of Democrats.
Those recent results closely mirror a May 2013 poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, which showed 55% support for same-sex marriage, with Republican support at 31%, support among Independents at 54%, and support among Democrats at 76%.
Numerous polls have shown sharply increased support for same-sex marriage in Michigan since 2004, when voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage with 59% support.
Snyder spoke in New York City on Monday at a Manhattan Institute for Policy Research forum. Referring to the Detroit financial crisis and the condition of Michigan roads, he said the key to success is "having the courage and conviction to take on these tough questions before the crisis arrives."
But critics say Snyder has been anything but courageous on the same-sex marriage issue, deflecting questions from reporters since soon after he took office in 2011. He continued to do so in New York following Friday's ruling by Friedman in Detroit.
Zack Pohl, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mark Schauer, said Snyder clearly opposes gay marriage, noting he said in a 2010 WXYZ-TV debate during his campaign: "On gay marriage, marriage is between a man and a woman."
Snyder has only given non-answers on the question since he was elected to office.
Late in 2011, Snyder signed a controversial law denying health benefits to civil partners of state employees. He defended that action as a cost-cutting measure and said it wasn't targeted at same-sex couples.
In a 2013 interview on Mackinac Island, Snyder declined to take a stand on a bill to repeal Michigan's ban on gay marriage.
Instead, Snyder has taken the political middle ground, saying that as governor he's obligated to respect the state constitution, but if voters changed the constitution, he would respect that as well. Asked about his personal view on the issue, Snyder declined, saying he wants to focus on "jobs and kids."
The economy and education are issues more important to most voters than same-sex marriage, so Snyder's way of deflecting questions about gay marriage and other topics he doesn't want to talk about is somewhat effective, said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA in Lansing.
But Snyder, who had never run for political office before he was elected governor, describes himself as a non-politician, obfuscates much more than one would expect from an officeholder making such a claim, Porn said.
"If he will never answer the question, there comes a point where that can be almost as much of a problem as any position he takes on the issue," he said.
William Plumpe, a retired Detroit accountant who said he normally votes Democratic, said he opposes same-sex marriage on moral grounds and does not believe a federal judge should overturn a voter-approved amendment to Michigan's Constitution.
Given the ongoing legal proceedings, "I think that at this point the governor is doing the right thing and not expressing an opinion one way or another," Plumpe said.
Both the Glengariff and EPIC-MRA polls were live-operator polls with margins of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In the Glengariff poll, 38% identified themselves as Democrats, 31% as Republicans and 27% as Independents. In the EPIC-MRA poll from last year, 39% identified themselves as Democrats, 36% as Republicans and 25% as Independents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.