From the Daily: Love is a legal battlefield

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 9, 2010

The debate over same-sex marriage has raged across the nation in the past few years. But though the dispute is often focused on vital civil rights arguments, the legal aspects that necessitate legalizing same-sex marriage aren’t often mentioned. But the case of Tammy David and Renee Harmon of Detroit, who are currently engaged in a custody battle over their three children after they ended their relationship, is a prime example of why legalizing same-sex marriage is necessary. Banning same-sex marriage has limited the legal structures. Same-sex marriages should be legalized to afford same-sex couples with equal civil and legal rights.

According to a Mar. 8 Detroit Free Press article, Detroit residents Harmon and Davis ended their 19-year long partnership in 2008. Harmon brought a suit against Davis in the Wayne County Court in February in an effort to gain joint custody of the couple’s three children. Michigan law doesn’t recognize domestic partnership in custody proceedings, and because Davis is the biological mother of all three children, Harmon has no custodial claims to them. She must first prove that she has legal standing to sue.

One of the causes of Harmon’s legal battle is a 2004 Michigan ballot initiative that defined marriage in the state constitution as between a man and a woman, effectively barring all same sex couples from attaining the same legal and civil benefits heterosexual couples acquire through a legal marriage. Michigan is also one of only six states that doesn’t allow unwed couples — same-sex or heterosexual — to adopt together.

Preventing same-sex couples from legally marrying is in itself a gross violation of basic civil rights. When states ban same-sex marriage, they deny LGBT citizens the equal rights that they deserve. There is no excuse for this discrimination. States should legalize same-sex marriage to give all citizens the rights to which they are entitled.

But banning same-sex marriage has also prohibited LGBT individuals from sharing in equitable legal and financial benefits. Legally married partners are allowed certain financial, legal and civil rights not offered to non-legal marriages. Married couples are eligible for tax benefits and greater access to state financial support, as well as certain insurance benefits. Same-sex marriage bans have systematically disenfranchised same-sex couples by excluding them from these benefits.

Same-sex couples face legal challenges even though they aren’t considered legally married, and the lack of legislation has left them without the legal structures they need. For example, there is currently no legal structure for both same-sex couples to maintain equal legal rights to their children, though both parents have an investment and role in the children’s lives. Harmon and Davis’s case is only one scenario — custody questions could also arise should one parent be incapacitated. It is this lack of legal framework that continues to deny same-sex couples equal rights and the legal protections that they need.

Regardless of whether the state recognizes same-sex partnerships as marriages, these couples face the same challenges as legally married heterosexual couples. The state should legalize same-sex marriage to create legal framework to allow same-sex couples to deal with legal concerns that all couples encounter.