WASHINGTON -- Michigan must recognize the legal marriages of about 300 same-sex couples who were wed in the state in a one-day period last year after a federal court struck down a ban on gay marriage and before the decision was put on hold by a U.S. appeals court, a judge ruled Thursday.
The same-sex couples who married in Michigan during that brief period acquired a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution even though a U.S. appeals court has reversed the 2014 decision that struck down the Michigan law, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, an Obama appointee, ruled.
"In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder," Goldsmith said in a written opinion, which he put on hold for 21 days.
Eight same-sex couples had challenged Michigan's refusal to recognize their marriages entered into after a federal judge ruled on March 21 that the state's ban was unconstitutional and before a 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals stay closed the window the next day.
Thursday's ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to take up cases concerning gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky andTennessee, all part of the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld same-sex marriage bans in November.
The 6th Circuit decision stands in contrast with four other U.S. appeals court circuits that have struck down bans, a split that increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court will take up the matter.
"The sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue the better it will be for Michigan and America," Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.
Evan Wolfson, president of gay rights advocates Freedom to Marry also urged the Supreme Court to take up same-sex marriage.
"Too many other couples are still being denied the freedom to marry and full respect and equality under the law, in Michigan and other states, and action by the courts remains urgently needed," Wolfson said in a statement.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states, plus the District of Columbia. A federal judge on Monday also struck down South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriage and put her ruling on hold pending appeals.