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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Michigan's marriage-amendment chickens have roosted

by folkbum

In the (as it turns out, almost entirely superfluous) Cheddarsphere debating over the amendment to ban gay marriage and any other substantial similar legal construct, the pro-amendment forces demanded, repeatedly, evidence that such a broadly worded measure would do anything besides what its sponsors told us it would do--namely, bar only marriage and civil unions. We anti-amendment folks cited open cases in places like Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, but none of those cases had gotten to a sufficent point of resolution that the pro side couldn't dismiss them in that way they do.

But now the Michigan Court of Appeals has spoken, and it turns out we on the anti-amendment side were right:
Public universities and state and local governments would violate the state constitution by providing health insurance to the partners of gay employees, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday. [. . .] "The marriage amendment's plain language prohibits public employers from recognizing same-sex unions for any purpose," the court wrote.

A constitutional amendment passed by Michigan voters in November 2004 made the union between a man and a woman the only agreement recognized as a marriage "or similar union for any purpose." Those six words led to the court fight over benefits for gay couples.

Gay couples and others had argued that the public intended to ban gay marriage but not block benefits for unmarried opposite sex or same-sex domestic partners.

The appeals court agreed with the Michigan attorney general, Republican Mike Cox, who said in a March 2005 opinion that same-sex benefits are not allowed in a state that does not recognize same-sex unions.
Well, okay, there is yet one more step--the Michigan Supreme Court--but as you can see, the amendments with the kind of broad language that the one passed here in Wisconsin last fall do, indeed, produce results beyond what the backers so disingenuously described to us.

Consider:
  1. We have plenty of government institutions around the state that offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples. Many of those places--the City of Milwaukee, for example--actually require that auch a partnership be supported by extensive documentation showing that the relationship is, indeed, substantially similar to marriage.
  2. We have a broadly worded amendment that bans the recognition of same-sex relationships that are "substantially similar" to marriage.
  3. We have a Republican Attorney General who supports the amendment, and seemed not to care that both his predecessor and his election opponent raised concerns about an interpretation of the amendment that would ban domestic partner benefits.
Those are the three ingredients that have gotten Michigan to where it is. Whatever the resolution in Michigan's high court, you can bet there are forces watching from here in Wisconsin ready to file suit against government agencies that offer domestic partner benefits.

And, relatedly, we were also told repeatedly by the pro-amendment forces that passing this amendment would stop questions of same-sex relationships' status being defined by the courts. I guess we see how that turned out, eh?

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