Appeals on same-sex marriage issue should be expedited

If there’s anything Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and the advocacy groups pushing to legalize same-sex marriage in the state can agree on, it’s that the judicial system should make a decision on this emotional and divisive issue quickly.

As it is, it could be two years before the U.S. Supreme Court makes its inevitable decision on the legality of state prohibitions against gay marriage.

For an issue such as this, where fundamental rights and values are at stake and the legal arguments are well known, the courts should expedite the appeals process and make a definitive decision on the bans enacted by Michigan and other states.

Given the series of federal court rulings on same-sex marriage bans in other states, the March 21 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman striking down Michigan’s voter-approved 2004 ban as unconstitutional was hardly surprising.

What was a little surprising was that Friedman did not “stay” his ruling, that is, suspend its effects until all appeals could be heard.

That would have been the proper move given the certainty that the state would appeal his decision. Friedman’s failure to do so opened a one-day window in which four counties issued marriage licenses to about 300 same-sex couples before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered its own stay. Those couples are now stuck in legal limbo.

Splitting legal hairs, Gov. Rick Snyder has stated that his administration considers those couples legally married but will not extend them the benefits normally accorded to married couples because of the stay – an interpretation that will probably spur a lawsuit of its own.

Meanwhile, on March 28, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government would recognize the Michigan marriages and extend all relevant federal benefits. All in all, it’s a muddled situation.

The Sixth Circuit Court has reportedly set deadlines in May and June for receiving briefs for and against Michigan’s appeal.

We hope the process can be accelerated, since given the normal pace of the appeals court it would be unlikely that the case would be ready to go to the Supreme Court before it begins its next term in October. Michigan is one of nine states in similar situations on same-sex marriage – Utah, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee are the others – and their cases could easily be consolidated.

Or Michigan could be picked out as the test case, since Judge Friedman held an actual trial with witnesses testifying on the implications of same-sex marriage for children.

However the cases are packaged, we hope the courts move expeditiously, recognizing that fundamental social and legal issues and the lives of thousands of couples and families are at stake.

Resolving the legal questions around same-sex marriage shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out process.