A federal judge’s decision to overturn Michigan’s traditional-marriage amendment, opening the door to Michigan becoming the 22nd state with legal gay marriage, was put on hold over the weekend by federal appeals court and the state governor.
In his ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman enjoined the marriage law, saying the state and its voters could not prove that they had any legitimate reasons to deny equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
However, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette immediately filed an emergency request for a stay of the ruling, which was provisionally granted Saturday afternoon by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The appeals court put Judge Friedman’s decision on hold until at least Wednesday, saying it needed the time to “allow a more reasoned consideration” of Mr. Schuette’s request.
In recent weeks, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas have overturned state marriage laws, but courts also stayed those rulings. Federal judges Kentucky and Ohio have added to the momentum by issuing gay-marriage-friendly rulings.
The Michigan attorney general had noted in his request to the 6th Circuit that the Supreme Court itself had prevented the Utah judge’s decision from taking immediate effect.
Clerks in at least four of Michigan’s 83 counties — Oakland, Muskegon, Ingham and Washtenaw — immediately began issuing licenses to same-sex couples and had passed out an estimated 300 licenses to gay couple in the almost 24 hours before the Saturday afternoon stay.
However, on Sunday, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder told reporters that state agencies would not immediately recognize those marriages without”further court or legal direction.”
In his late-afternoon ruling, Judge Friedman rejected the findings of scholars who were brought in to defend the Michigan Marriage Amendment’s premise that “heterosexual married couples provide the optimal environment for raising children.”
“The Court rejects this rationale for several reasons,” he wrote.
Trial experts disproved that premise, Judge Friedman wrote. Moreover, Michigan’s marriage amendment was inconsistent, as it allowed “sub-optimal” heterosexual couples to marry but not same-sex couples.
“Taken the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples,” Judge Friedman wrote.
He also specifically ruled that the gay plaintiffs’ witnesses were “entirely credible,” but the state’s experts on marriage, family and social science were not.
The judge further dismissed defense arguments about state’s rights to determine marriage laws, the importance of tradition and morality, and the wisdom of proceeding cautiously with the social redefinition of marriage.
Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, applauded such findings.