Amending the Constitution
The Michigan Constitution was amended to define marriage as a union between one woman and one man, ban gay marriage and delineate certain restrictions regarding other legal unions. The Michigan State Proposal-04-2 was approved by voters in 2004 with a 58.6 percent majority.
The Court’s Interpretation
In 2008, the Michigan Supreme Court interpreted the amendment as doing much more than defining marriage. It was ruled that it legally barred public employers from “grant[ing] domestic partnership benefits” meaning partners and children of gay couples may be denied healthcare. Apparently the court relied on the wording of the amendment’s prohibition of a “similar union [to marriage] for any purpose” to make the final decision. This court ruling goes well beyond the realm of disapproving of gay marriage and into that which deals with healthcare and other important rights for couples and their children. The decision makes Michigan one of the most conservative states regarding gay marriage and proves that for those who oppose it, much more needs to be considered than whether it is appropriate or inappropriate for a gay couple to have a legal relationship.
The economic debate is also important for Michigan. The non-profit, Center for Michigan, discussed in a story the disadvantage that the gay marriage ban poses to the state’s economy because talented employees will be deterred from considering work in the state.
It seems that the idea of fighting the amendment that banned gay marriage is still being tossed around. Representative Jeff Irwin feels “there’s been a lot of energy spent in trying to shut down the equal rights we should be giving to everyone.”
Representative Pam Byrnes may be the leading force in this movement. She feels attitudes are changing. “We are seeing other states flip on this issue especially when you get the former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledging same-sex marriages…then I think we definitely see a change in attitude and it’s time to revisit this.” She revisited it by announcing, in 2009, that she intended to introduce legislation to reverse the constitutional ban approved by voters five years earlier.
She may have a point because it appears that she is not alone in thinking that times have changed. The Detroit Free Press reported on a poll that showed a shift in support for gay marriage since the 2004 statewide vote, standing around 46.5 percent approval. A similar poll from 2009 poll showed that same change in opinion with 63.7 percent of residents in favor of civil unions.
But, presenting legislation to counteract a voter-approved amendment will be difficult even with such changes in the public’s sentiments. Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party’s LGBTA Caucus, Phil Volk, advises that marriage equality proponents frame the issue differently, as a matter of equality. This, he says, is to try and keep gay marriage opposition from making the issue about family values.
A two-thirds majority must be achieved in both legislative chambers for the measure to be put before Michigan voters again.
Byrnes’ motives for introducing announcing this when she did are under scrutiny. Some argue that her timing was to “increase her visibility among Ann Arbor’s GLBT community” and improve her chances of winning a soon-to-be-available seat for the 18th Senate District. While this is entirely possible, the LGBT community and its supporters can only hope that she is also a genuine advocate for marriage equality rights.
- Can same-sex couples marry in Michigan? No.
- Can same-sex couples enter into any legal relationship? No.