Court extends freeze on Michigan gay marriages

DETROIT (Detroit Free Press) -- The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals extended a stay on Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman that said Michigan's ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional.

The court cited a similar case in Utah in which the Supreme Court stayed a lower court's decision so that the matter can ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme court.

"A stay of the district court's order is warranted," the Appeals Court panel said in a ruling issued late Tuesday afternoon.

■ PDF: Appeals court order

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who had requested the stay, said he wasn't surprised.

"As we anticipated, the 6th Circuit recognized the similarities to the Utah case and granted our request for stay," said Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Schuette. "We will now focus on preparing an appeal in defense of the constitution and the will of the people."

Schuette, during the Lansing stop on his re-election campaign announcement tour around the state, said he's upholding his duty to defend the state's Constitution.

"The final decision will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "If the citizens of the state want to change the Constitution, they can, that's their right. If U.S. Supreme Court rules a different way, I will honor that."

The state of Michigan filed a reply Tuesday to the attorneys for plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a couple who challenged Michigan's ban on same sex-marriage, asking the appellate court to issue a stay pending resolution of the appeal.

On the merits of the stay, the state said: "The Supreme Court has already determined that a stay pending appeal is warranted when a district court strikes down a state constitutional amendment defining marriage."

Schuette said constitutions are meant to be followed and "they can't be casually dismissed."

"In the end, a stay will be issued. If you look across the country, there are eight states that have dealt with this and in all these states, a stay has been issued," Schuette said.

Attorneys for DeBoer and Rowse had asked the appellate court to deny the state's motion for a stay, arguing that the state should have first requested Friedman issue a stay. In response to the state's motion, DeBoer and Rowse's attorneys stated that denying the stay best meets the public interest.

"There are times when maintaining the status quo makes sense," the filing says. "There are also times when maintaining the status quo is merely a kinder label for perpetuating discrimination that should no longer be tolerated."

The attorneys said that "permitting loving same-sex couples to marry and provide full parental security for their children will also help the state's economy." The filing says that discriminatory policies deter same-sex couples from adopting children within the state's foster care system.

The Court of Appeals on Saturday issued a stay, pending Schuette's appeal of Friedman's ruling, that initially was due to expire on Wednesday.

Before the Appeals Court issued the stay on Saturday afternoon, 321 same sex couples received marriage licenses and at least 299 couples were married. The stay leaves those couples in a sort of limbo, waiting to see if their vows are legally recognized. The ACLU is preparing to launch legal challenges if the state doesn't recognize the validity of the marriages of same sex couples performed on Saturday.

The challenges could come if the state refuses to grant benefits to a spouse in a same sex marriage, block adoptions by those couples or file state income tax forms jointly, said Jay Kaplan, an attorney for the ACLU of Michigan.

"There are more than 1,400 state laws dealing with a legal civil marriage," he said. "And if the state maintains that these marriages are not legally valid, we have a problem with that and we'll explore a legal challenge against the state."

Yet, supporters of same-sex marriages agreed the stay was likely. Kaplan cited other cases across the nation dealing with same-sex marriages.

"In many of these federal district court decisions, the judges have entered stays with the feeling that this has to move through the appeals process up the Supreme Court," Kaplan said.

He predicted that Michigan may be the case the High Court will consider because it involves a full-fledged trial with testimony and evidence on the issue of same sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court could take up one of the same sex marriage cases later this year or early next year and make a ruling by June of 2015.

That isn't much solace for Jody Valley and Elaine Thomason, an East Lansing couple who have been together for 25 years and who were married on Saturday.

"We got a piece of paper with a seal on it. How can they say we're not married," Valley said. "It was such a high for us on Saturday. But now it doesn't feel so good. Are we married or aren't we?"

Michigan voters decided in 2004 that marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman. The state has claimed that children thrive best when raised by mothers and fathers and has argued that's why it wants to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

While Schuette said he still supports the 2004 marriage amendment, which declared that in Michigan marriage is between one man and one woman, he believes kids can be raised equally well in all sorts of households.

"Families come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. I want to have loving parents," he said. "I know that single parents and gay parents love their kids. I'm cool with having parents who love their kids. Whether it's gay or straight, kids today need loving attentive parents."

A group of same sex marriage supporters gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to share their joy over Friedman's ruling and dismay that Attorney General Bill Schuette continues his fight to uphold the ban on same sex marriage that voters approved by a 59-41% margin in 2004.

"I truly don't understand the rabid resistance from some people," said Glenna DeJong, who with Marsha Caspar, were the first same sex couple to get married in Michigan on Saturday. "I do know we'll be on the right side of history. We need everyone to be and stay engaged in this fight because after 27 years, I'm done waiting."

The group, which included several lawmakers and Equality Michigan, which advocates for the LGBT community and issues, gathered more than 14,500 signatures on a petition calling on Gov. Rick Snyder and Schuette to drop the state's appeal of Friedman's ruling. They dropped the signatures at Schuette's office Tuesday afternoon.

"We're asking Gov. Snyder to abide by the judicial ruling and order your Attorney General to stand down. There should be no more wasting our taxpayer dollars and making phony cases about what families should look like with baloney science," said state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing. "We need to permit equal rights for everyone and acknowledge these beautiful unions that happened this weekend."


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