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Same-sex marriage in Mich. suspended by appeals court

US judge puts hold on decision, pending review

Mary Black and Sarah Weinstein were married in a group wedding at Michigan’s Oakland County Courthouse.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Mary Black and Sarah Weinstein were married in a group wedding at Michigan’s Oakland County Courthouse.

CINCINNATI — A federal appeals court on Saturday suspended gay marriages in Michigan, putting on hold a decision by a lower court judge who had struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The order by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati brought a halt to same-sex weddings in Michigan, at least through Wednesday. Dozens of couples got married earlier Saturday in at least four Michigan counties.

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Federal Judge Bernard Friedman on Friday overturned Michigan’s constitutional ban, the latest in a series of decisions overturning similar laws across the country.

Two Detroit-area nurses who have been partners for eight years said the ban violated their rights under the US Constitution. Nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment that recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman.

After Friedman issued his ruling, the state attorney general, Bill Schuette, filed a notice asking the Appeals Court to stay the ruling and to reconsider it.

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The Appeals Court could decide to keep the ban in place beyond Wednesday, while it decides on the case. That would be similar to what has happened in other states where lower-court judges struck down same-sex marriage bans.

In Utah, some 1,300 same-sex couples were married in December during a brief legal window before the Supreme Court stayed a federal judge’s ruling that had overturned that state’s same-sex marriage ban. Utah then decided not to recognize their marriages or offer any new benefits pending the outcome of an appeal.

Earlier Saturday in Ann Arbor, Jonnie Terry, 50, and Elizabeth Patten, 52, who have been together for 28 years, were the first to receive their marriage license in that city.

At 9:11 a.m., they held the white sheet of paper allowing them to marry and posed for a slew of news cameras with their daughter and son and with Lawrence Kestenbaum, clerk of Washtenaw County. On the other side of a glass wall, in the lobby of the clerk’s office, hundreds of people crammed shoulder to shoulder cheered loudly.

“It’s not how I envisioned my wedding, but we’re grateful,” Terry said.

The couple, along with several family members, then wove their way through the crowd, down to a stuffy basement room with neutral walls and white boards. There, Judge Judith Ellen Levy of the US District Court for Eastern Michigan officiated at the couple’s wedding.

“It feels just unbelievable,” Patten said after the ceremony. “We’ve been waiting for this for a lifetime.”

Equality Michigan, which advocates gay rights, sent an e-mail to its members early Saturday with details of how to obtain marriage licenses. Clerks offices were also open and issuing marriage licenses in Oakland County, in suburban Detroit, and in Muskegon County, in western Michigan.

Before Friday’s ruling, same-sex marriages were legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage after a 2004 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court.

Since June, when the US Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states, all federal benefits to married couples have been extended to gays.

In 2004, Michigan voters approved a referendum to the state constitution that made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. The measure was approved by 59 percent of the voters.

Four years later, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the ban extended to the domestic partnership benefits for public employees, such as health insurance.

The case decided Friday was brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, nurses who live together in a Detroit suburb and who each adopted children born with special needs and 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 wanted to do so to protect their parental interests if one of them died.

They later expanded their suit to challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

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