Paul Sancya/AP

Court extends freeze on Michigan gay marriages

The state’s ban was struck down, allowing hundreds of same-sex couples to wed before decision was stayed

A federal appeals court Tuesday put an indefinite halt to same-sex marriage in Michigan while it takes a longer look at a judge's decision to overturn a 2004 ban.

The latest decision will extend a stay on the marriages. The stay was implemented by the same court Saturday and had been due to expire Wednesday.

After a Supreme Court decision in June 2013 that required the federal government to recognize married same-sex couples, rights advocates won a landslide of federal district court decisions, and judges overturned amendments or laws banning gay marriages in more than 20 states. Many of those states, like Michigan, have pending appeals against those decisions.

On Friday, Michigan briefly became the 18th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage, but a request for a stay by the U.S. court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit was approved the next day.

A Friday ruling by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman of Detroit declared the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.

Hundreds of same-sex couples who married while the ban was struck down could find themselves in legal limbo. The Detroit News reported four counties in the state issued 323 marriage licenses on Saturday.

Judges Karen Caldwell and John Rogers said a stay is appropriate, especially because the Supreme Court ordered a similar timeout in January in a gay marriage case in Utah. Appeals court Judge Helene White dissented. Circuit-level decisions are usually handed down by a panel of three judges.

"There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did" in Utah, Caldwell and Rogers said.

Some 1,300 gay couples were married in Utah in the few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay while the appeal is considered, leaving the newlyweds uncertain about whether they have the rights generally affected by marriage.

"Furthermore, several district courts that have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage similar to the Michigan amendment at issue here have also granted requests for stays made by state defendants," Caldwell and Rogers added.

The court also set May and June deadlines for additional filings by the state and attorneys for two Detroit-area nurses who successfully challenged the gay marriage ban. No date for oral argument has been set.

Friedman, the U.S. district judge in Detroit, ruled last week in favor of Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who live with three adopted children. They cannot jointly adopt each other's children, because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage.

The judge held a two-week trial, spending much of it listening to experts talk about the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Friedman said conservative social scientists and economists who testified for Michigan were "unbelievable" and "clearly represent a fringe viewpoint."

Rowse and DeBoer did not get married during the brief window Saturday. They said they want to wait to see if Friedman's decision is upheld after all appeals.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.

Supporters of the bans in Michigan, Utah and elsewhere have cited tradition, religious texts and the welfare of children to defend their belief that only opposite-sex marriage should be legal, arguments that several courts have ruled insufficient.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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