Mich. still navigating same-sex marriage law
Although gay rights advocates across the nation might be claiming victory after a federal judge overturned a same-sex marriage ban in California, the fight more than 2,000 miles away is to some Michiganians a reminder of the state’s own unresolved legislation on the matter.
As Californians argue over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a measure passed by voters in 2008 that banned same-sex marriages there, some Michigan legislators are working to update and clarify a similar state measure.
In 2004, Michigan voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriages and civil unions in the state. Now, a bill, which was introduced to the state House of Representatives in November 2009, would seek to make Michigan recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The bill falls short of allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license, which would run contrary to the measure passed in 2004. Instead, it seeks to change wording contained in the state’s Foreign Marriages Act of 1939 from “a man and a woman” to “individuals.”
California is having similar struggles defining marriage. In 2008, a ruling by the state Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages. Five months later, a voter-approved constitutional amendment disallowed them. Last week, a U.S. District Court in northern California found the amendment unconstitutional.
The ruling in California could be a sign opinions toward same-sex marriage are changing throughout the country, said state Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Lyndon Township, the primary sponsor of the bill to amend Michigan’s law.
“Attitudes are changing, and obviously we are seeing more court opinions (as) more and more people realize that same-sex couples should not be discriminated against,” Byrnes said. “The more states that are realizing these bans are illegal, maybe it’s time to get some movement.”
After the bill was introduced to the House, it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, but has not been taken up. Although the committee chair, state Rep. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, is a co-sponsor on the bill, Byrnes said it likely has not been addressed in case it might jeopardize representatives’ reelection efforts.
“It’s a very controversial issue,” Byrnes said. “This is a political year. It might put many legislators in an awkward situation, having to vote for that coming up before election.”
Regardless of the election cycle, the constitutional amendment was approved by the people and legislators should not infringe on the will of the people, said state Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
“The people of Michigan overwhelmingly voted they did not think gay marriage was a marriage,” Jones said. “I’m a representative of the people and I will not vote for something the people do not want.”
California’s recent court case will not affect the legality of same-sex unions in Michigan, said Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association of Michigan. The association has publicly stated its opinion numerous times that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry.
“The fact that an openly homosexual judge would vote to overturn the vote of 7 million Californians in favor of constitutionally defining marriage as between one man and one woman is anything but surprising,” Glenn said. “It will be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which will be the only decision that counts.”
Changing Michigan’s same-sex marriage laws might come to a nationwide decision, said communication senior Justin Ford, a program assistant at the MSU Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender Resource Center.
“Michigan legislators and our legislative stances on same-sex marriages (are) the strictest in the states,” Ford said.
“As the country as a whole continues to become more comfortable (with same-sex marriages), and the Legislature starts to reflect that comfort, then Michigan will have no choice (but) to come around.”