Jan 15, 2:07 PM EST

Judge: Michigan must recognize 300-plus gay marriages


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DETROIT (AP) -- On the day before the nation's high court could decide whether to take up Michigan's same-sex marriage case, a federal judge ruled that the state must recognize hundreds of such unions performed during a brief window when they were allowed last year.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote Thursday that the marriages are valid, but put a hold on the decision for 21 days pending any appeal by the state.

A different federal judge had struck down the state's gay marriage ban - adopted by voter referendum in 2004 - on March 21. More than 300 same-sex couples in four counties got married the next day, before an appeals court suspended the decision and blocked additional marriages.

Michigan has refused to recognize those marriages, a decision that can affect health insurance coverage and the ability of same-sex couples to jointly adopt children. Goldsmith said those who married "acquired a status that state officials may not ignore, absent some compelling interest."

Further, Goldsmith said the state showed no previous court decision approving an effort to impair the marital status of a couple who were lawfully married. Rather, he wrote, "there is a long history" of court decisions and laws rejecting the view that marital status "may be invalidated by a state after it was lawfully acquired under that state's law."

"In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder," Goldsmith wrote.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement that his office is reviewing the ruling, and added that "the sooner the United States Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue, the better it will be for Michigan and America."

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide Friday whether it will put Michigan's same-sex marriage case on its calendar in time to be argued and decided by late June. Until now, the court has managed to avoid settling the issue for the nation as a whole. In the meantime, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states that allow same-sex couples to marry. Last week, Florida became the 36th state to issue licenses for same-sex unions.

The plaintiffs in the Michigan case include the state's first married same-sex couple, Marsha Caspar and Glenna DeJong of Ingham County.

"Of course, we're ecstatic about it," DeJong told The Associated Press. "I saw the email from our attorney and I started crying."

DeJong also believes it's time for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue.

"We certainly need a resolution once and for all," she said. "I don't understand how marriage could be legal in 36 states and not others."

The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of eight couples, said the ruling is "a victory for marriage equality."

"These marriages are cherished and valid - same as any other - and it's only right that the courts and our country recognize as much. ... With this decision, they can finally begin to move away from uncertainty and unfairness and toward the fulfillment of their shared dreams."

During an August hearing, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Michael Murphy encouraged Goldsmith to turn down the ACLU's request for an injunction and let an appeals court sort out the entire matter.

"These things are not straightforward. ... It's not clean. It's not clear. It's not concise," said Murphy, who suggested the state would immediately appeal any adverse ruling by Goldsmith.

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