BY ANDREW KAPLAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 20, 2003
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in
favor of gay marriages Tuesday recognizes same-sex unions in its
state alone. But the ruling’s message — the first of
its kind from a high court — has reverberated across multiple
levels of government.
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In Michigan, the decision has forced advocates and opponents of
gay unions to reexamine the possibility of same-sex marriages in
the state and across the nation.
Currently, a proposal restricting same-sex marriages to
heterosexual unions is languishing in the Michigan Senate. If
ratified by both houses of the Legislature and then approved on a
public ballot initiative next year, the state constitution would
preempt Michigan courts from ruling in favor of same-sex
“Wherever it’s been voted on, the people have
decided that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said
Sen. Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt), who introduced the proposed amendment
last month. “I think it would be very difficult for most
legislators to say we’re not going to let the people vote on
Although Massachusetts is the first state to recognize gay
marriages, other states — most notably, Vermont and
California — recognize same-sex unions. But Vermont is the
only state that recognizes “civil unions,” or legal
partnerships granting about 400 state economic and legal benefits,
but not the 1,000 federal benefits attached to heterosexual
Referring to states that have at some point recognized same-sex
unions, Cropsey said such partnerships have only gained recognition
where the courts have wrongly “set policy” through
their rulings. He added that the Massachusetts court breached its
role in government by adjudicating in favor of gay marriages.
“From the judiciary standpoint, they are obliterating the
line between the judiciary and the Legislature,” Cropsey
said. “They know that this is the purview of the Legislature,
but they are trying to put this in constitutional terms and force
it on the people in that state.”
But Rep. Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor), who said he opposes the
Michigan amendment and favors the Massachusetts ruling, said he did
not think the court acted outside its jurisdiction.
“I think (the Massachusetts judges) were definitely acting
within their body when a legislature, at any level, denied basic
rights afforded to everyone to any one group,” Kolb said,
adding that laws banning gay marriage violate the Equal Protection
Clause of the U.S. Constitution. “That is what the judicial
branch of government is supposed to do. … When one of the
branches is wrong it’s their job to correct it —
that’s checks and balances.”
While Kolb, an openly gay lawmaker, said he thought all Michigan
voters were divided over the issue of gay marriage, he added that
they will most likely reject the state’s amendment proposal
and recognize marriage as a basic civil right.
“Michigan is a more conservative state than many in this
country, but the people are fair and it’s one when you have
to lay down the case in front of them,” Kolb said.
But Cropsey said he felt that state officials will ultimately
endorse the ban on gay marriage. Although the Legislature —
which is predominantly Republican — has often found itself at
odds with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Cropsey said the issue
of gay marriage has crossed party lines.
“From what the press was telling me yesterday, Granholm
believes very strictly in the definition of marriage between a man
and a woman,” Cropsey said. “Which is exactly what the
Jenna Bednar, political science professor at the University,
said she agrees that same-sex marriage has become a national issue
that blurs traditional partisan divisions.
“At first, it makes it really hard politically to decide
who’s going to support this case,” Bednar said.
“I think it puts the Republican Party in a very difficult
decision. If they come out in opposition to gay marriage, then they
upset some libertarians of the conservative side. …
We’re breaking apart the ideological spectrum from the simple
In addition, some University students said most voters support
or oppose same-sex unions for largely spiritual — not merely
political — reasons.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue at
all,” said Nicole Doozan, a member of the campus College
Democrats. “I believe as a Christian that the gay lifestyle
is a sin. Politically, I’m not sure I support (same-sex)
Doozan, an LSA sophomore, added that the Massachusetts decision
may convince many legislators and voters to rule in favor of the
Michigan amendment proposal.
LSA junior Jeff Souva, co-chair of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
and Transgender Commission of the Michigan Student Assembly, said
University students generally form opinions about gay marriage
based on party affiliation.
“At the University, (homosexuality) is definitely a
partisan issue if we’re going to use the word
‘marriage,’” he said. “But that
doesn’t necessarily mean that the Democrats like the word
‘marriage’ either.” Apart from political
persuasion, Souva added that many gay couples do not even favor gay
“Not all people in LGBT are in favor of marriage, because
marriage is a sexist institution,” he said, citing
traditional views of marriages as a husband’s dominance over
his wife. “I would prefer to see the definition of family be
redesigned, rather than see the 1950s nuclear family.”
Although same-sex couples in Massachusetts will soon be able to
obtain marriage licenses, voters could overturn the court’s
ruling through a 2006 ballot initiative. Souva said a public vote
may upset the efforts of many activists and lawmakers to get gay
marriage accepted there and in Michigan.
“I’m afraid that what could happen is that the
conservatives of our state, who are in support of the state
constitutional amendment, could use what happened in Massachusetts
as fuel for their fire and use it as a means to rile up their
conservative base and expedite our amendment,” he said.
Even if the Michigan Legislature does not put the gay-marriage
ban on the ballot, gay unions recognized in Massachusetts would not
necessarily be recognized in Michigan or any other state. Under the
1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government
recognizes marriage as the union between a man and a woman —
meaning that same-sex unions deemed official by state law may still
go unrecognized in other states.
Despite the Bush administration’s support of DOMA, the
president has faltered on endorsing a constitutional amendment
— such as the one in the Michigan Legislature — that
would rigidly define marriage as a heterosexual partnership.
If more states decide to follow in the footsteps of the
Massachusetts court, gay couples who hold marriage licenses may run
afoul of federal officials refusing to acknowledge their unions,
She added that even if Michigan and other states form their own
policies on gay marriages, the validity of those unions will very
likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“If a couple gets a license and moves to another state,
then this isn’t played out at the state level, this will go
the Supreme Court,” she said. “I think we’re
going to hear about it in the next elections.”