Ten years ago, the state of Michigan voted to deny same-sex couples their fundamental right to marry. This week, Michigan has been forced to rethink its opinion in federal court – and it’s about time.
Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are the catalyst behind the appeal. The lesbian couple filed a lawsuit against the state, calling into question the constitutional legitimacy of Michigan Proposal 04-2.
The amendment, approved by Michigan voters with a 59-percent approval rate, prohibited the state from recognizing same-sex marriage. As a result, gay and lesbian couples are unable to legally and jointly adopt a child.
Rowse and Deboer said the amendment “enshrined discrimination in the state constitution.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Prohibiting same-sex couples from a state-recognized marriage is a direct violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The ban is an abomination.
Although the 10th Amendment gives powers to the states not specifically outlined by the federal government, it does not give states the right to “deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”
While Rowse has been able to adopt two children and DeBoer has adopted one, the state’s bigoted legislation prevents each woman from obtaining guardianship should the other die.
In that unfortunate circumstance, the state would theoretically place their children in foster care, rather than keeping them in the hands of their immediate family.
Michigan’s legislation, clouded by neoconservative religious dogma, does not protect families. Essentially, the ban interferes with the best interest of the children.
The ban sacrifices the basic human right to love freely. Legal inequities – including health and death benefits – continue to remain between heterosexual and homosexual couples. The law also stifles free expression, forcing same-sex couples into a paradoxical relationship with the state.
So far, the court has heard testimony from myriad sources. Psychologists, sociologists, law and history professors and demographers have all testified on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The plaintiff’s argument has been fairly straightforward. Each expert repeated the same familiar conclusion: Same-sex couples are able to raise children just as effectively as heterosexual couples.
Nancy Cott, a Harvard professor with expertise in the history of marriage, encapsulated the issue with her testimony Friday.
“Nobody applying for a marriage license has ever been asked what roles the two parties will take on,” she said. “(Marriage) is about mutual support in an emotional way as well as in an economic way. So that relationship of marriage to gender has been on a historical trajectory toward a kind of neutrality.”
History supports Cott’s claims of social change.
Since Michigan’s ban in 2004, at least 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, federal judges struck down same-sex marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia without trial.
President Barack Obama has continued to strive for LGBTQ rights. In 2010, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” – the military policy forcing gay and lesbian soldiers to remain silent about their sexual orientation – was repealed.
A recent Gallup Poll shows 54 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage. Both nationally and locally, gay and lesbian rights are making great strides. It’s time for Michigan to take a stance.
Legislators are duty-bound to uphold citizens rights and to abide by the constitution. While the state must recognize the outcome of a legal referendum – like proposal 04-2 – it also must recognize when motives are unconstitutional.
Governments that exclude a particular group of people invariably put themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Not only do discriminatory laws send a hostile message to the homosexual community, they show the nation we do not respect the rights of all Michiganders.
In addition to driving away same-sex couples who want to make Michigan a home, the ban serves as a repellant for an entire generation. Young, college-educated men and women will see the ban as what it is – discrimination. Without change, Michigan will lose both homosexual and heterosexual couples to states that foster more progressive ideals.
Marriage is a right, not a privilege to be doled out by politicians or granted by a ballot proposal.
Same-sex couples deserve to be treated fairly. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is a hateful practice that must end.
While District Judge Bernard Friedman has jurisdiction in this particular case, the fight for equality will not end here. As citizens in a democratic society, we have the power to change this now.
Make your voice heard.
Tell our politicians that enough is enough. Bans on same-sex marriage diminish our basic human liberties and attempts to make lesbian or gay couples and their children less than what they really are – a family.