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Gay marriages in Michigan halted by court

MASON, Michigan--Same-sex couples rushed to Michigan county clerk's offices a day after a judge overturned the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage, and several hundred managed to do so before an appeals court reinstituted the ban, at least temporarily.

The order by a federal appeals court in Cincinnati came after Glenna DeJong, 53, and Marsha Caspar, 51, were the first to arrive Saturday at the Ingham County Courthouse. DeJong and Caspar, who have been together for 27 years, received their license and were married.

“I figured in my lifetime it would happen,” Caspar said. “But now, when it happens now, it's just overwhelming. I still can't believe it. I don't think it's hit me yet.”

Similar nuptials followed one after another, at times en masse, in at least four of Michigan's 83 counties. Those four — Oakland, Muskegon, Ingham and Washtenaw counties — issued more than 300 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Saturday.

DeJong said that the threat of a ruling by the appeals court to reinstate the ban was all the encouragement they needed.

“Come Monday, we might not be able to do it, so we knew we had a short window of time,” she said.

She was right. Later Saturday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals froze until at least Wednesday a decision by a lower court judge to overturn Michigan's ban. The appeals court said the time-out will “allow a more reasoned consideration” of the state's request to stop same-sex marriages.

The court's order was posted just a few hours after it told the winning side to respond to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's request for a stay by noon Tuesday.

In his appeal, Schuette noted the U.S. Supreme Court in January suspended a similar decision that struck down Utah's gay-marriage ban.

Voters approved an amendment to the Michigan constitution banning gay marriage by an overwhelming margin in 2004, but since then public opinion polls in many states show growing support for same-sex marriage, particularly among young people.

But in Friday's historic decision, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said the ballot box is no defense to a law that tramples the rights of same-sex couples.

Schuette's spokeswoman, Joy Yearout, said Saturday that a stay would preserve a state constitutional ban pending the appeal's outcome. She declined to say whether the state would recognize the new marriages in that scenario.

“The courts will have to sort it out,” she said.

Anna Kirkland, a University of Michigan professor who submitted an expert report in the Michigan case, said people who have received licenses are “legally married” regardless of what state officials do.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., issue licenses for same-sex marriages. Since December, bans on gay marriage also have been overturned by courts in Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Virginia, but appeals have put those cases on hold.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses who are raising three children with special needs, filed a lawsuit in 2012 because they're barred from jointly adopting each other's children. Joint adoption is reserved for married heterosexual couples in Michigan.

Their lawsuit sparked the two-week trial that culminated with Friday's decision.

Their lawyer, Dana Nessel said she was “not shocked” by the appeals courts actions.

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Elizabeth Patten, left, holds up the first marriage ticket to marry her partner Johnnie Terry in front of the Washtenaw County Clerks office in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Saturday, March 22. A federal judge struck down Michigan's ban on gay marriage Friday in the latest in a series of decisions overturning similar laws across the U.S. (AP)

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