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Gay Marriage Ban: State Constitution's Role is to Expand, Not Limit, Rights
Detroit Free Press
By Valerie P. Simmons and Mark Bernstein
October 25, 2004
In the nearly 170 years since Michigan citizens first approved the state Constitution, there have been five constitutional conventions after the first in 1835. At the end of those conventions each amendment that was ultimately adopted by the delegates, served only to strengthen that sacred document and expand the rights of Michigan citizens.
The 1963 amendment among other things, established the Michigan Civil Rights Commission -- with the explicit charge to not just fight, but to eliminate discrimination against our fellow citizens.
Forty-one years after our last amendment, Michigan citizens are now being asked to amend our Constitution once more.
This time, however, the venue is not at a constitutional convention, and we are not being asked to adopt an amendment that will strengthen citizens' rights and expand our liberties. No, instead we are being asked on Election Day to approve an amendment that at its essence is designed to undermine the fundamental rights of our fellow citizens and to codify blatant discrimination into our laws.
It is a tragic turn of events, which all Michiganders of goodwill must resist.
Proposal 2 would amend the state Constitution to provide that "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."
Michigan law already bans gay marriage. But supporters of the initiative claim that it is still necessary to have it written into the state Constitution to protect it against what they call "activist" judges and politicians.
However, besides its redundancy, there are several other problems with this proposal. Among the most troublesome is that the language is so broad it could force universities, governments and other public agencies to stop giving domestic partner health benefits to same-sex couples and heterosexual couples that aren't married.
Yet, these unintended consequences do not seem to bother its proponents. They seem to believe that same-sex marriage is so reprehensible, such a threat to the fabric of our society, that even if a ban on such marriages undermines the security of other loving and committed relationships, it's OK.
However, it was precisely because of those concerns that the Michigan's Women's Commission has come out against Proposal 2. And no one could argue that this agency is unconcerned with the institution of marriage or the stability of our families.
The fundamental flaw with Proposal 2 is that its rests upon two spurious propositions. The first is that gay people are somehow somehow different than the rest of us.
The second is that their emotions and relationships are not as meaningful or quite as real as the rest of ours. Therefore, their unions should not be valued like the rest of ours, and we should publicly declare this by enshrining this view into law.
The real tragedy is that not everyone who has concerns about same-sex unions is a raging homophobe. In fact, many supporters of Proposal 2 will readily admit to having members within their own families who are gay and whom they love very much.
They will claim their opposition is based upon religious or moral principles.
However, what is happening here is that we are mixing two very different concepts. One is the concept of a civil union that grants two citizens certain rights and privileges under the laws of the state. The second is marriage as a religious ceremony.
But the government has absolutely no business regulating the personal relationships between two consenting adults based on religious or moral grounds.
And, it certainly is inappropriate for the government to deny privileges based on discriminatory grounds. This is exactly the type of conduct the 1963 amendment to our Constitution was intended to prohibit.
While we believe it is entirely appropriate for religious institutions to define and control or regulate marriage in a religious context, the state itself should not be in the business of judging one civil union over the other.
The role of the government and the Constitution is to respect and protect the sanctity of legal unions and ensure that individuals in those unions are afforded equal protection, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
For those of us who hold sacred equal rights for all and especially for those charged with the awesome responsibility of seeing to it that the constitutional rights of our citizens are zealously guarded, we must resist this effort to marginalize other Michiganders based on archaic stereotypes.
No matter how the proponents of Proposal 2 try to frame this debate, let there be no doubt about what it really is: a form of discrimination based on stereotypes and morality concepts that don't have a place in state government -- and certainly not in our state Constitution.
Vote NO on Proposal 2.
Valerie P. Simmons is a Grand Rapids attorney and chairwoman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
Mark Bernstein is a Farmington Hills attorney and vice chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
The views expressed in this column are those of the individual drafters and not those of the official position of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
Copyright (c) 2004 Detroit Free Press
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