In an increasingly partisan election, an issue has landed on the
Michigan ballot that may polarize debate even further. After a
decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals earlier this month,
voters will now decide if the state constitution should be amended
to ban same-sex marriage.

Three laws currently ban same-sex marriage within the state.
However, these are open to judicial interpretation — the new
amendment would prevent judges from ever allowing same-sex marriage
to occur in Michigan and limit those eligible for business and
government benefits.

Although existing benefits packages and contracts would not be
affected, the amendment would not guarantee their inclusion in
future negotiations or collective bargaining sessions.

“This amendment does three things it does not say it
does,” said Julius Zomper, communications director for the
Coalition for a Fair Michigan, an advocacy group opposing the
amendment. He claims the amendment would interfere with labor
unions, public universities’ ability to offer benefits and
deprive children of health care.

Marlene Elwell, chair of the Citizens for Protection of
Marriage, an advocacy group in favor the amendment, calls
accusations of lost benefits “absolutely not true” and
downplays their impact, saying the amendment will not affect
private business.

LSA senior Andrea Knittel, co-chair of a lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender political activist group, Stonewall Democrats,
defines the argument over benefits as the central issue in the
entire debate. Her claim is that the amendment is simply “a
business and civil issue.” Others believe there are more
pressing moral issues at stake.

“The amendment will protect traditional marriage as it has
stood since the beginning of time,” said Elwell. “We
believe (marriage) is between a man and a woman.”

Proponents of the amendment argue that politicians have ignored
public opinion, the majority of which the advocacy says is against
gay marriage, including in Michigan where the state Legislature
voted against adding a similar amendment to the state constitution
earlier this year.

“We are starting to see a pattern,” said Elwell,
citing Massachusetts as an example of judicial activism overriding
citizen desire.

LSA senior Dave Sackett, an active member of Campus Crusade for
Christ and a supporter of the measure, said judges should be
controlled.

“Judges should be reined in because they are looking for
opportunities to be legislators and misuse courts.”

Sackett said there is a larger agenda behind the push for
legalization of gay marriage. “It’s not about
insurance. The fundamental issue is moral acceptance and change in
culture.”

Zomper, however, classifies these attitudes as “part of a
pattern of trying to go back to the 19th century.”

But the decision also has spurred debate over citizen’s
rights.

Some argue the ballot initiative will give voters the
opportunity to make their own moral decisions, but others charge it
will strip many people of social and economic advantages in the
process.

Supporters of the amendment claim it is an initiative designed
to empower voters by giving them more control over the legislative
process.

“Activist judges and politicians have been stepping in to
re-write laws,” Elwell said.

For opponents of the amendment, individual rights hold a more
important place than voting power.

Zomper fears some rights will be jeopardized if the measure is
passed.

“If it passes, it will be the first time in the history of
the state the constitution is amended to take rights away from
people,” he said.

But discrimination is only one worry for amendment opponents.
The future of the amendment is very much in doubt, which has caused
both sides of the debate to become increasingly active.

Knittel wants the Stonewall Democrats to “focus on
identifying voters and educating them.”

Coalition for a Fair Michigan will engage in what Zomper calls a
“grassroots” campaign that includes canvassing, phone
banks and television advertisements.

Citizens for the Protection of Marriage have engaged in a
“big push for voter registration” recently according to
Elwell, but will shift their focus to “raising awareness and
voter education from now until the election.”

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