- After a court ruling, scores of same-sex marriages occurred in Michigan
- Attorney General Holder says those couples are eligible for federal benefits
- The issue is now in limbo due to a legal appeal
The federal government will recognize gay marriages in Michigan that occurred between recent conflicting court rulings, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Friday.
Holder's statement said couples married on March 22, before an appellate court blocked a previous ruling allowing gay marriage in Michigan, "will be eligible for all relevant federal benefits on the same terms as other same-sex marriages."
His decision is the latest move by the Obama administration toward legalizing gay marriage in the United States. The divisive issue pits social and religious conservatives against liberals and moderates, with polls showing a majority of Americans in support of gay marriage.
On March 21, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional.
His ruling cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry immediately, and scores did the next day until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order to temporarily stay, or put on hold, Friedman's decision.
The same appeals court extended its stay on Tuesday, causing confusion over the status of the couples married over the previous weekend.
Holder noted that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder "has made clear that the marriages that took place on Saturday were lawful and valid when entered into, although Michigan will not extend state rights and benefits tied to these marriages pending further legal proceedings."
"For purposes of federal law ... these Michigan couples will not be asked to wait for further resolution in the courts before they may seek federal benefits to which they are entitled," Holder said, citing a previous decision in a similar situation in Utah.
Voters in Utah, Michigan and nine other states passed constitutional amendments in 2004 defining marriage as one man and one woman.
Friedman's ruling was the latest in a series of recent similar decisions affecting marriage restrictions in states including Texas, Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma. In most of those cases, the judicial orders did not take effect immediately.
However, Michigan's did and, as in Utah, same-sex couples immediately got marriage licenses before later court decisions halted such unions -- at least for now, as higher courts weigh in.
Last June, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that rejected parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act while ruling same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.