A federal judge on Thursday ruled that Michigan officials must recognize the marriages of 300 gay and lesbian couples.

The weddings took place in four counties the day after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan's ban on March 21, a Friday. The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on Friedman's ruling after the couples had exchanged vows.

While the federal government said that it will honor the marriages, Republican Governor Rick Snyder refused to do so, prompting eight of the couples to file a federal lawsuit to have their marriages recognized by the state.

“The fundamental question in this case is whether officials of the State of Michigan are violating the United States Constitution by refusing to recognize the marital status of same-sex couples whose marriages were solemnized pursuant to Michigan marriage licenses issued in accordance with Michigan law in effect at the time of the marriages,” U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith wrote in his 47-page ruling. “This Court concludes that the continued legal validity of an individual's marital status in such circumstances is a fundamental right comprehended within the liberty protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

On November 6, a 3-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Michigan's ban and those in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Plaintiffs in all four challenges have appealed to the Supreme Court, which could decide as early as Friday whether to hear one or several of the cases.

Lawyers representing Michigan argued that the Sixth Circuit's ruling upholding Michigan's ban invalidated the marriages.

“Consequently, from a legal standpoint, because the marriages rested solely on the district court's erroneous decision, which has now been reversed, it is as if the marriages never existed, and Plaintiffs' requests for benefits attendant to a legal marriage must be denied,” the state said in its filing.

Goldsmith disagreed: “Even though the court decision that required Michigan to allow same-sex couples to marry has now been reversed on appeal, the same-sex couples who married in Michigan during the brief period when such marriages were authorized acquired a status that state officials may not ignore absent some compelling interest – a constitutional hurdle that the defense does not even attempt to surmount. In these circumstances, what the state has joined together, it may not put asunder.”

The ruling is stayed for 21 days.

(Brief provided by Equality Case Files.)