Michigan Marriage Stay to Remain in Effect through Appeals Process

Ruling on March 25, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has extended the stay on last week’s marriage equality ruling in Michigan to allow the state to bring its appeal before the circuit.

In an order that ran to just over three pages, the panel’s majority –– which included Circuit Court Judge John Rogers and District Court Judge Karen Caldwell –– laid out the four factors courts consider in determining whether or not a ruling should be stayed pending appeal, and then noted that those factors would “balance no differently” than they had when the State of Utah won a stay from the Supreme Court after a district court in December ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry in that state. Pointing to the parallels between the two cases, the majority found, “There is no apparent basis to distinguish this case or to balance the equities any differently than the Supreme Court did” in the Utah case.

The court also noted that other recent district court rulings in favor of marriage equality have been stayed at the request of state government defendants –– though, in fact, a marriage recognition order in Tennessee has not, at this point, been stayed.

District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman’s March 21 ruling, in a case brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse –– who initially went to court to challenge Michigan’s ban on adoption by unmarried couples –– was in effect for less than 24 hours, during which time more than 300 couples married, according to local media. Late in the day on March 22, the Sixth Circuit imposed a temporary stay until both sides could file arguments due on March 25. Several hours after the deadline for those filings, the three-judge panel issued its ruling, halting marriages in Michigan until at least the time the Sixth Circuit rules on the merits of the state’s appeal.

In dissent, Circuit Court Judge Helene White noted that though the Supreme Court stayed the Utah decision, “it did so without a statement of reasons, and therefore the order provides little guidance.”

White looked to “the traditional four-factor test” –– the prospect that Michigan would prevail on appeal; whether the plaintiff couple would suffer “irreparable harm” if the district court proceedings are stayed; whether a stay would “substantially injure” other parties; and where “the public interest lies.”

The state would have to “demonstrate at least serious questions” about Friedman’s conclusions on the merits, she found. “Michigan has not made the requisite showing,” White concluded.

Marriage equality victories in every state that falls within the Sixth Circuit –– including, as well, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee –– are also headed for appeal before the Sixth Circuit, while Virginia is appealing a pro-equality ruling to the Fourth Circuit, Texas to the Fifth Circuit, and Utah and Oklahoma to the 10th Circuit. Marriage equality plaintiffs in Nevada are appealing their loss in district court –– a ruling that, unlike all the recent victories, came before last year’s Supreme Court DOMA decision –– to the Ninth Circuit. Oral arguments are scheduled for April in the Virginia, Utah, and Oklahoma cases.