(Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Cook)
A U.S. appeals court on Saturday temporarily put on hold a federal judge's ruling Friday to strike down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, a move that followed issuance of more than 300 marriage licenses to gays and lesbians by state officials.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted a temporary stay until Wednesday, directing those who challenged the state's gay marriage ban to respond to Michigan attorney general's plea to place the lower court's decision on hold pending an appeal.
"To allow a more reasoned consideration of the motion to stay, it is ordered that the district court's judgment is temporarily stayed until Wednesday," the Saturday's ruling said.
State Attorney General Bill Schuette's spokeswoman Joy Yearout said Saturday the stay was intended to preserve the state Constitution pending the appeal's outcome, according to The Associated Press. She didn't comment on whether the state will recognize the new marriages. "The courts will have to sort it out," she was quoted as saying.
Officials in four counties issued 323 marriage licenses Saturday, according to Detroit News.
Michigan's 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, which was approved by 59 percent of voters, was challenged by a Detroit suburb lesbian couple, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who wanted to jointly adopt each other's children but could not.
Anna Kirkland, a University of Michigan professor who submitted an expert report in the Michigan case, told the AP that those issued licenses will be considered "legally married" regardless of what state officials do. "A ruling from a federal judge on the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause ... is binding on the state government," she was quoted as saying. "It's the law of the land until or unless the Supreme Court says otherwise."
In a 31-page ruling, Judge Bernard A. Friedman of Federal District Court Friday stated, "The Court finds that the (ban) impermissibly discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the provision does not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest."
The judge also said that religious views of some people cannot come in the way of equal protection. "Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage," Friedman said. "Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law."
Federal judges in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah have also struck down state amendments and laws banning gay marriage as unconstitutional ever since the U.S. Supreme Court last June squashed a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now issue licenses for same-sex marriage.
After Friday's ruling, Brian S. Brown, President of the National Organization for Marriage, said it reflects "an all-out assault on marriage, issuing rulings to redefine this foundational institution in violation of US Supreme Court precedent and the rule of law."