Hundreds of same-sex couples wed in Michigan before appeals court issues stay


Marsha Caspar, 51, left, and Glenna DeJong, 53, of Lansing, Mich., sign documents Saturday before they were married at the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason. The wedding came the day after the state's ban on gay marriage was scratched from the state constitution by a federal judge. (Emma Fidel/AP)

Hundreds of gay couples in Michigan rushed to local courthouses to recite marriage vows on Saturday, a day after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

Within hours, however, the euphoria was tempered when a federal appeals court issued an order putting the Friday ruling on hold, “to allow a more reasoned consideration” of an emergency stay request filed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R).

The state, in its filing, cited the “monumental impact the district court’s order would have on the institution of marriage.” A brief order from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said attorneys for the plaintiffs, a lesbian couple from suburban Detroit, have until Tuesday to submit their arguments as to why marriages should be allowed to continue.

It suspended same-sex marriages until at least Wednesday.

The Saturday court order capped a dramatic day in county offices across Michigan, with couples hurrying to wed in anticipation of a possible stay.

A judge overturns a ban on same-sex marriage in Michigan, the latest in a series of rulings across the country. (Reuters)

Four county clerks, all elected Democrats and gay-marriage supporters, had taken the unusual step of adding last-minute Saturday hours.

In the aftermath of the Friday ruling by District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman of Detroit that the state’s ban was unconstitutional, the clerks seized their chance to allow as many couples as possible to marry in a half-day. Friedman, unlike other judges who have issued similar rulings in other states, did not stay his decision.

The clerks scrambled to reach their staffs to come into work on overtime to provide security, help with paperwork and issue marriage licenses.

“There was an opportunity [Saturday] when marriage for same-sex couples was legal,” said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who announced on Twitter on Friday night that she’d authorized the state’s first legal marriage ceremony and would open her office until 1 p.m. Saturday to conduct weddings.

“I couldn’t bring myself to force these couples who have waited so long to marry to wait until Monday morning,” Byrum, whose county is home to the state capital, Lansing, said in an interview. “It’s been an awesome morning!”

Couples began lining up outside the courthouses hours before they opened at 8 or 9 a.m. With their children, friends and family members, they cheered and embraced, knowing their window of victory could be short-lived.

By the time Byrum closed her office, she had issued 57 marriage licenses and performed 30 ceremonies.

Among the couples she married were Ann Watson and Susan Sherman, both 55, of East Lansing, who arrived at the courthouse at 10:45 a.m. with their 16-year-old daughter, Sarah.

The couple will have been together 24 years in June. When they got wind of Friday’s ruling, they assumed they would come to the courthouse first thing Monday. Then Sherman saw a tweet on her phone: Weddings would start Saturday. “I woke up the family and said, ‘Let’s do it!’ ” she said.

It was not how they had envisioned their wedding — rushed, with just one close friend at their side instead of many they had hoped would be there. They are now in legal limbo. Their marriage is not recognized in Michigan for now, but they are entitled to federal benefits because of a Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

In Utah, about 1,300 gay couples married in December during a brief legal window before the Supreme Court stayed a federal judge’s ruling that had overturned the same-sex-marriage ban there. Utah then decided not to recognize their marriages or offer any new benefits while the ruling is appealed.

Before Friday’s ruling, same-sex marriages were legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

In Oakland County, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, the clerk’s office issued 142 licenses and married 82 same-sex couples on Saturday, some en masse in the county commissioners’ auditorium.

“This this about making the service available to anyone who wanted it,” County Clerk Lisa Brown said before the appeals court halted the marriages.

Twelve people on her staff came to work on overtime. “With the amount of weddings I officiated, it was a windfall for Oakland County,” Brown joked. “It’s been a beautiful, beautiful day.”

In 2004, Michigan voters approved a referendum measure that made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions.

The case decided Friday was brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, nurses who live in a Detroit suburb. Each adopted children born with special needs, and they are raising them as one family. They originally sued in 2012 to overturn a state law that prevents them, as unmarried parties, from adopting their three children as a couple.

They later expanded their lawsuit to challenge the same-sex-marriage ban. But on Saturday, they were not among the couples making their unions legal.

“They want to get married when all the appeals have been exhausted, when they know their marriage can’t be disrupted, overturned or invalidated,” said their attorney, Dana Nessel.

In his ruling, Friedman dismissed the state’s contention, after a two-week trial, that Michigan voters adopted the ban on the premise that heterosexual married couples provided the optimal environment for raising children.

Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

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