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Same-Sex Marriage In Michigan

Posted by Peter Brian Barry on

Peter Brian Barry

For at least a few days this past week, it looked like same-sex marriage might be a genuine possibility in the state of Michigan.

There was serious speculation that U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman might overturn Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least several county clerks suggested that they would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if such a ban were overturned, including clerks in Midland, Oakland, and Tuscola counties.

Gary Glenn, who co-authored the same-sex marriage ban approved by 59 percent of Michigan voters in 2004, urged state and county officials to "take whatever action is possible" to stop clerks from issuing marriage licenses if the ban is temporarily lifted: "One Detroit lawyer in a black robe doesn't have the legitimate Constitutional or moral authority to overturn the will of millions of Michigan voters, and even more certain, a county clerk does not," said Glenn, who is running for the state House out of Midland.

The Attorney General's office, representing Gov. Rick Snyder and the state of Michigan, has argued the merits of "traditional marriage" and said that any attempt to overturn the ban should be done so by voters, not courts. Ultimately, all was for naught as Judge Friedman declined to rule and called for a trial next February to determine the facts of the case.

There are at least two odd responses to all this among those who hope to preserve Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. At least some clerks worried that they didn’t have the right paperwork available for same-sex couples; the licenses included terms like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ under the relevant signatory lines. Apparently, no one thought to update the paperwork despite the fall of DOMA earlier this year.

Only slightly less odd is the popular argument that these matters should be decided by voters and not the courts.

Why odd? Because in other matters, at least some opponents of same-sex marriage have been more than happy to let matters implicating civil rights be decided by the courts and not via a legislature or public referendum.

Recall that in 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down a Washington D.C. ordinance that made registration of handguns illegal in District of Columbia v. Heller. Since Washington D.C. is under the province of Congress, that ruling only struck down Federal law; it was only later applied to the states in 2010 in McDonald v. Chicago. In that case, a ban on registering handguns was overturned not by the voters but by the courts. I recall no howls of protest coming from Midland around 2010.

DOMA is dead, and goes for guns should go for same-sex marriage. The right to bear arms and the right to marry are fundamental rights; laws infringing on both of those rights have been stuck down by SCOTUS as unconstitutional. So if gun owners in Chicago should not have to wait for unfriendly legislatures to get around to changing their laws, neither should same-sex couples.

Weirdly, the great state of Michigan is being lapped by New Jersey whose State Supreme Court just struck down its ban on same-sex marriage this past Friday citing the SCOTUS decision that struck down DOMA.

Perhaps we should go ahead and start printing some new marriage licenses?

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.

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Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

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