Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage will remain in place while the state fights a federal judge's ruling that declared the ban unconstitutional, an appeals court decided Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's ruling on a vote of 2 to 1.
The plaintiffs in the case, a lesbian couple, had asked the appeals court to lift the ban during the appeals.
“There are times when maintaining the status quo makes sense,” attorneys for April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse said in a court document filed Tuesday. “There are also times when maintaining the status quo is merely a kinder label for perpetuating discrimination that should no longer be tolerated.”
Michigan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette argued that a stay was necessary because same-sex marriages completed in the interim – such as the hundreds performed Saturday – are of questionable legal status and won’t be recognized by state officials. He cited other gay marriage cases in which federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have issued stays during appeals.
Friedman overturned Michigan’s decade-old, voter-approved same-sex marriage ban Friday, ruling it unconstitutional because it denied equal protection to gays and lesbians.
Some Michigan counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples early Saturday morning until the appeals court temporarily stayed Friedman's ruling. According to a court filing, 323 licenses were issued. Tuesday's ruling extended the stay pending the appeals process.
Gay rights group Equality Michigan said nearly 300 gay couples wed before the appeals court intervened.
Circuit Judge John Rogers and Chief District Judge Karen Caldwell voted in favor of the indefinite stay.
"There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did" in January when the high court suspended a ruling that overturned Utah's gay marriage ban pending appeal, the judges wrote in an order released Tuesday evening.
Circuit Judge Helene White dissented, saying the Supreme Court's order in the Utah case "provides little guidance" since the justices didn't explain their rationale.
DeBoer and Rowse were not among those who married Saturday, saying they would wait for the appeals process to run its course.
Attorneys for Michigan have until May 7 to explain to the appeals court why Friedman's ruling should be reversed. The plaintiffs will have a month to reply.
Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, whose office processed more than a third of the same-sex marriage licenses Saturday, said couples started lining up as early as 6 a.m. They waited for hours knowing that the window to marry could be closed by the appeals court any second, she said in a court filing.
Brown is named as a defendant alongside the state in the original lawsuit, but she has supported gay marriage.
"I will continue to be forced to discriminate against couples and their families with the respect to my duties as Oakland County clerk if a stay continues," she said in an affidavit.