Same-sex weddings in Michigan were abruptly halted Saturday when a federal appeals court put on hold a lower court ruling that declared the state's ban on gay marriages unconstitutional.
The appellate court order came Saturday afternoon, after Michigan officials had issued at least 322 marriage licenses to gays and lesbians who jumped at the chance to be among the first same-sex couples in the state to wed.
County clerks in four of Michigan's 83 counties called in staff on a weekend to mark the short-lived (for now) historic shift in Michigan. The four counties include about a fifth of Michigan's nearly 10 million residents.
U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman said Friday that Michigan's decade-old state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman violated the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection for all individuals. In doing so, he immediately required the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples such as the pair of female nurses that had challenged the gay marriage ban.
After the ruling was released Friday evening, Michigan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette filed an emergency request to delay it from going into effect.
But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not take immediate action. On Saturday afternoon, the court gave attorneys for the nurses until noon Tuesday to rebut the state's emergency request.
Later Saturday, the appeals court issued another order, this time saying the same-sex marriage ban would remain in place at least through Wednesday "to allow a more reasoned consideration of the motion" to keep the ban in place.
The more than 300 couples who wed Saturday are unlikely to have their marriages recognized by the state, legal experts said.
This sort of legal limbo has happened before. In Utah, more than 1,000 couples were married last year after a federal judge there declared a ban against same-sex weddings unconstitutional.
That judge's ruling also was put on hold weeks later by the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state has not recognized the gay marriages, pending the outcome of the appeal. But in January, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said the federal government would view those marriages as valid for tax, healthcare and other purposes.
Federal judges in several states have struck down same-sex wedding bans but delayed implementation of their orders to let the appeals process play out.
"We anticipate that the 6th Circuit will issue a permanent stay, just as courts have ruled in similar cases across the country," Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney general, said in a statement Saturday evening.
In Ingham County, which issued Michigan's first same-sex marriage license Saturday, 57 couples had wed, the county clerk said on Twitter. Oakland County issued 142 licenses, its clerk tweeted. Washtenaw County issued 74 marriage licenses, the Ann-Arbor News reported.
Muskegon County had been performing ceremonies and issuing licenses at a church up to the very minute the appeals court's stay was issued. The Harbor Unitarian Universalist Church was used because it was easier to open up without security than a county building, Rebecca St. Clair, the church's vice president, told the Los Angeles Times.
Forty-nine licenses had been issued by the time of the stay, with several disappointed couples still waiting in line. Earlier in the day, cheers could be heard as batches of couples tied of the knot inside the church.
The decision striking down the state's decade-old, voter-approved ban on gay marriage came Friday, following a two-week trial last fall. At trial, the state argued that children of gay couples don't turn out as well as the children of opposite-sex couples. The judge soundly dismissed those arguments in his ruling and said the ban violated the U.S. Constitution's promise of equal protection for all individuals.
A pair of female nurses from outside of Detroit, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, challenged the ban because they had wanted to jointly adopt children but that right was only available to married couples.
"We're so happy and proud Michigan is now on the right side of history and that we were able to stand up and say this wasn't fair," DeBoer told the media Friday night. The couple said Friday that they would not marry until the appeals process is finished.