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Same-sex couples marry in Michigan shortly before court halts licenses

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By Greg Botelho

The weddings have happened -- but will they count?

A day after a federal judge struck down a Michigan state amendment restricting marriage to between one man and one woman, gay and lesbian couples lined up Saturday to make their unions official.

"We never thought that we'd see this day," said Ann Watson, who wed her partner of more than 23 years. "In that sense, it's amazing."

Watson -- who works for Turner Broadcasting System, an entity that includes CNN -- and her partner were one of 57 couples to get same-sex marriage licenses in Ingham County, according to county clerk Barb Byrum.

Byrum, a Democrat elected to the county clerk post, said that she personally performed 30 ceremonies in Mason.

"Today was an awesome day," Byrum tweeted.

Not all county clerks followed suit by taking the abnormal step of opening up their offices on a weekend. But there were a few others, such as in Oakland County, according to CNN affiliate WDIV.

There, in Pontiac, Frank Colasonti and James Ryder arrived early for the chance to marry after 26 years together.

Colasonti told WDIV that "we wanted to get married as soon as possible" in the wake of the court ruling issued late Friday afternoon. Their motivation was simple: "We love each other, and we want to make sure that we protect each other."

As to being among the first gay couples married in Michigan, Colasonti said, "It's historic, and we're glad we're a part of it. And we are just happy."

There's a chance that their marriage could be among the last, too.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican whose term expires later this year, announced on Friday evening he'd filed an emergency request for U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman's order to be stayed and appealed.

"In 2004, the citizens of Michigan recognized that diversity in parenting is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable," Schuette said. "Michigan voters enshrined that decision in our state constitution, and their will should stand and be respected."

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued an order Saturday to temporarily stay through at least Wednesday the decision by Friedman. In its brief order, the court explained that it did so "to allow a more reasoned consideration of the motion to stay."

Earlier, the same court had said that those opposed to Schuette's request have until noon Tuesday to respond.

It's not immediately clear what will happen, then, with the same-sex marriages that took place earlier Saturday.

Watson said she isn't surprised by the stay and is bracing for the idea she and Sherman won't immediately have full benefits available to them in Michigan -- though she expects that, at least, they'll now have federal benefits available to marriage same-sex couples.

"It is what we expected," Watson said. "We know that we are on the right side of history."

In fact, Friedman's ruling was the latest in a series of recent district judge decisions -- which have also affected Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Utah -- striking down state laws restricting marriage to one man and one woman. Judges later issued stays of those decisions until higher courts weigh in.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond's law school, explained that appellate judges must weigh in on all these cases. The Supreme Court likely won't add its input until its next term, which starts in October. Still, the trend in the courts -- which also happens to mirror that in public opinion polls -- so far is clear.

"It's all in one direction right now," Tobias said.

Regardless of the fact her situation is in limbo, Watson and her partner are celebrating, nonetheless. They have family members expressing joy and solidarity along with them, such as a brother-in-law who noted the two are finally "acting out what's been in place for years."

But most importantly, they have their 16-year-old daughter to savor the moment with -- who they were able to jointly adopt years ago in Georgia and who was at her parents' wedding ceremony in Mason.

"She's excited about it," Watson said.
   
 CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report
   
 The-CNN-Wire
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