The 2000 Census showed that at least 22,000 gay couples live in Michigan. They are similar in many ways to married couples: they live throughout the state, are racially and ethnically diverse, have partners that depend upon one another financially, and actively participate in Michigan’s economy. Census data also show that 18% of gay couples in Michigan are raising children. However, gay couples in Michigan, particularly those with children, have fewer economic resources to provide for their families than do their married counterparts.
While Michigan’s anti-marriage constitutional amendment doesn’t affect benefits offered by private employers, the amendment and the legal battles around it have helped cast Michigan as a state that is unfriendly to gay and transgender citizens and employees. Our public leaders must take this into account as they try to rebuild Michigan’s struggling economy.
Gay couples have always been denied the freedom to marry under Michigan law. However, with the introduction of marriage equality in Massachusetts, anti-equality activists in Michigan began the drive to ban marriage equality in the state constitution.
However, these activists were not content simply to target marriage rights. The drive to ban marriage equality has also been about denying health insurance and other coverage to families (including children) headed by gay couples. In addition to three legislative resolutions to ban marriage equality put forward in 2004, the state legislature also introduced two separate resolutions “to urge the Civil Service Commission to reject any and all provisions of state labor contracts that offer same-sex domestic partner benefits to state employees.”
Most of these resolutions never made it out of committee. House Joint Resolution U, which would have begun the process of banning marriage equality in Michigan’s constitution, failed to get the required 2/3 majority vote.
With the marriage ban stalled in Michigan’s legislature, anti-equality activists turned to Michigan ballot. In 2004, Michigan voters were presented with Proposal 2, which read:
To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, 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.
The amendment passed by 59%, in part due to public assurances by amendment supporters that the proposal would not affect health insurance and other benefits for partners and children. [iii] However, the true aim of anti-gay activists was to deny equality, dignity and financial stability to gay couples and their children. Soon after the passage of Proposal 2, activists began challenging existing domestic partner health coverage being offered by Michigan’s public universities and municipalities. The result was a 2008 decision by Michigan’s Supreme Court that ruled the benefits illegal under the anti-marriage amendment.
The ruling didn’t stop Michigan’s universities and municipalities from offering the benefits, however. State universities began the movement to offer health insurance and other benefits to “Other Eligible Individuals” (OEIs). OEI policies generally allow an employee to designate an adult that is living with them as a beneficiary for purposes of receiving benefits. In some cases the children of the OEI are also covered, allowing gay and other unmarried couples to provide at least some protections for their children.
Efforts to provide essential health insurance and other benefits to unmarried couples and their children were most recently taken up by Michigan’s Civil Service Commission, which in January 2011 voted to extend OEI benefits to state employees. Opponents of this move include Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and other Republican leaders. Anti-equality leaders have appealed to several state legislators to ask Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette to issue an opinion invalidating the Civil Service Commission decision.
Meanwhile, further proof that anti-equality activists are out of touch with the voters can be found in a January 2011 poll published by the Detroit News. It shows that 56% of voters “said they would allow civil unions that provide the legal benefits of marriage, while 39% are also in favor of granting full equal marriage to same-sex partners.”
So we come to the conclusion that the majority should not be voting on issues which affect minorities. Nor should they be allowed to vote on civil rights issues. When will both the federal government and all 50 states come to the realization that our constitution entitles all people equal rights, and that they are discriminating against lgbt community with their amendments and bans. Michigan needs a bill to correct this so the lgbt community can be treated like first class citizens instead of less than. The bill needs to address issues such as marriage equality, the ability to adopt, equal benefits by employers, and protection from discrimination from employment and housing. They should be protected under the hate crimes laws rather than being treated as an unimportant issue.