Appeals court extends freeze on gay marriage in Michigan

Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage stays on books while appeals court takes more time to consider case

By Mara MacDonald - Reporter

DETROIT - A federal appeals court has indefinitely suspended a judge's decision that allowed gay marriage in Michigan.

The ruling Tuesday means Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage stays on the books while the appeals court takes more time to consider the case. The panel ruled 2-1.

The ban was thrown out Friday by a federal judge in Detroit. Hundreds of couples were married Saturday before the appeals court put a temporary halt to the judge's ruling.

The court now has extended the stay after reading arguments from the state of Michigan and attorneys for two Detroit-area nurses who challenged the ban.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. Nearly 60 percent of voters approved it in 2004.

Attorneys who persuaded a judge to overturn Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage urged a higher court Tuesday to reject a request to freeze that decision.

A federal appeals court must decide whether to extend a temporary suspension of the decision, as sought by the state, or drop it and allow gay marriages to resume.

Complete coverage: Fight over Michigan's gay marriage ban

In a court filing, lawyers for two Detroit-area nurses who challenged the state's gay marriage ban said a stay is inappropriate because the Michigan attorney general's office is unlikely to win an appeal in the long run.

View/download: DeBoer, Rowse response to stay

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman last Friday struck down a 2004 constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. He said it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"There are times when maintaining the status quo makes sense," attorneys for Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer wrote. "There are also times when maintaining the status quo is merely a kinder label for perpetuating discrimination that should no longer be tolerated. The public interest in this case lies on the side of ending discrimination, promoting equality and human dignity and providing security for children."

The nurses' attorneys also claim that state lawyers flunked court procedure by failing last week to ask the judge to immediately suspend his decision. The state asked for a stay during the trial's closing arguments on March 7, but Friedman didn't address it in his 31-page opinion.

In the new filing Tuesday, the attorney general's office is pledging to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to stop same-sex marriage in Michigan if the appeals court doesn't further halt the decision.

Hundreds of couples were married before the appeals court temporarily froze Friedman's decision Saturday. The stay runs until Wednesday.

DeBoer and Rowse scored the decisive victory in federal court Friday, but even through the jubilation they told Local 4 they expected a stay to be granted in the case while it makes it's way up the legal-food chain.

The federal appeals court has done just that, which means all of the 300-plus same-sex marriage ceremonies that happened over the past weekend are now up in the air.

Will the state recognize the marriages or not? In Lansing, a resolution has already been drafted in the state House that would recognize those couples as legally married while the case proceeds. The American Civil Liberties Union could also step in on this issue and attempt to get those marriages recognized as valid.

So far, Gov. Rick Snyder has been deflecting when asked about his stance and thoughts about the issue, but what he is doing is distancing himself from Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is fighting to keep the gay marriage ban in place.

Related: Gov. Snyder waits before recognizing gay marriages

The Supreme Court in January issued a stay in a similar case in Utah.

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