same sex marriage in michigan

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As a presidential election year, the 2004 ballots were stacked with representatives, board members, judges, and various referendums and proposals to be voted on. One of these proposals, the Michigan Marriage Amendment (Proposal 2), was a proposal that appeared in several forms across the country that year. Proposal 2, which passed with 58% of the vote, amended the Michigan state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. This made marriage between two people of the same sex illegal in the state of Michigan.

During the campaign, advocates for Proposal 2 clearly stated that this amendment would only apply to marriage. They maintained that the proposal was not going to effect civil unions or domestic partner benefits. However, the wording of the amendment was troublesome to those in opposition of Proposal 2: “…the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” Those final six words — “or similar union for any purpose” — could contradict the supporters’ statements that Proposal 2 would only apply to marriage. “We were concerned… What did these six extra words mean? What else might this amendment be able to prohibit? What about civil unions? What about domestic partner benefits?” said Jay Kaplan, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who works on the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) project. Kaplan, along with human rights attorney Deb LaBelle, spoke at an event held at the University of Michigan Law School on Monday, February 18th.

The event, “Strategizing to Overcome Legal Discrimination in Michigan”, was based around a Michigan Supreme Court decision about Proposal 2. The decision read the Michigan Marriage Amendment to mean that it did not only prohibit same sex marriage, but also prohibited public employers from providing domestic partner benefits. Among the attendees were University of Michigan law students and ACLU members, as well as community activists. 

“We need to pursue an amendment to Michigan’s constitution, one which would remove that clause [“or similar union for any purpose”] from the Marriage Amendment,” said Joe Summers, moderator of the event and a vicar at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. Summers said that while he hopes that same sex unions will one day be recognized by the government as the same as heterosexual unions, the most pressing issue at the moment is rights: “While Michigan may consider marriage to be between a man and a woman, we need to have a domestic partnership ordinance that grants same sex couples and same sex families all the same legal protections and responsibilities that come with marriage.”

Kaplan, LaBelle, and Summers’ stance on same sex marriage all have the same basic principal: marriage is a civil right, and the government has no place taking that right away. “The court has held that [marriage] is a fundamental right,” said Kaplan, citing the Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia which legalized interracial marriage. “Why should you take a select group of people and deny them that right?”

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