Federal court extends freeze on Michigan gay marriages
DETROIT -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday put an indefinite halt to gay marriage in Michigan while it takes a longer look at a judge’s decision overturning a 2004 ban on same-sex nuptials.
The court granted the state’s request to suspend a ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, who declared the voter-approved ban unconstitutional on Friday. Hundreds of same-sex couples in four counties were married Saturday before the appeals court stepped in with a temporary stay that had been set to expire Wednesday.
The 2-1 decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was a victory for Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had pledged to rush to the U.S. Supreme Court if the court turned him down.
Judges Karen Caldwell and John Rogers said a stay is appropriate, especially because the Supreme Court ordered a similar time-out in January in a gay marriage case in Utah.
"There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did" in Utah, Caldwell and Rogers said. "Furthermore, several district courts that have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage similar to the Michigan amendment at issue here have also granted requests for stays made by state defendants."
Appeals court Judge Helene White disagreed.
It will be months before the next major step by the Cincinnati-based court. It set May and June deadlines for additional filings by the state and attorneys for two Detroit-area nurses who had challenged the gay marriage ban. The court has yet to schedule a day for arguments.
"We will now focus on preparing an appeal in defense of the constitution and the will of the people," Schuette spokeswoman Joy Yearout said.
Friedman, a judge in Detroit, ruled last week in favor of Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who live with three adopted children. They can’t jointly adopt each other’s kids because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage.
The judge held a two-week trial, listening to experts mostly talk about the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Friedman said conservative social scientists and economists who testified for Michigan were "unbelievable" and "clearly represent a fringe viewpoint."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.
Attorneys for Rowse and DeBoer had urged the appeals court to allow gay marriages in Michigan while the case was under review.
"The public interest in this case lies on the side of ending discrimination, promoting equality and human dignity and providing security for children," they said.
Nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters in 2004 approved adding an amendment to the constitution that says marriage only is between a man and a woman. Friedman, however, said the election result was no defense to discrimination against gays and lesbians.
What remains unclear is the legal status of more than 300 couples who were married Saturday in Washtenaw, Ingham, Oakland and Muskegon counties. Supporters of same-sex marriage are urging the Obama administration to recognize the marriages for purposes of federal benefits as it has done in other states.
Gov. Rick Snyder has not signaled if the state will recognize the marriages.
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