The far-reaching implications from the passage of Proposal 2, the state ballot initiative banning at least same-sex marriage, have just hit closer to home. Under Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s direction, the state of Michigan recently elected not to extend benefits to the partners of its gay and lesbian employees. Instead of standing firm against Proposal 2 and supporting equal benefits for the state’s same-sex employees, Granholm decided to wait for a court to rule on their constitutionality. With the state and the unions representing state employees choosing to evade a legal challenge to its new contracts, the burden has fallen upon the University, which appears — unlike the state– –— willing to confront the forces bent on limiting the rights and privileges of homosexuals. The University should defend its right to offer domestic partnership benefits in state court, and if necessary, take the next step challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the proposal in federal courts.
Recognizing that most Michigan residents support some form of same-sex unions, conservatives campaigning for Proposal 2 originally argued that the proposal’s scope was narrow, pertaining only to matters concerning marriage. Opponents argued it was much vaster in scope, with overbreadth that could justify outlawing same-sex unions and partnership benefits. Now, in a remarkable change of tune, conservatives who said the amendment only applied to marriage before Election Day, are rushing forth to stop same-sex benefits. Voters who opposed the initiative — those who worried the proposal banned same-sex unions and benefits — are watching their fears come to life.
Conservatives now claim that Proposal 2 prohibits same-sex unions, and any consequent benefit from such a union would be illegal as well. As a result, the University, which has elected to continue its domestic partnership benefits, will likely be challenged in court. The Thomas More Law Center, a conservative legal think tank, staged a surprise attack. The organization is considering suing the University on behalf of state taxpayers in a “taxpayer suit.” While it is still uncertain whether such a suit would be legally viable, the Thomas More Law Center seems intent on finding a way to challenge the University. Prior to Nov. 2, conservatives argued that Proposal 2 was intended solely to protect “traditional marriage.” They won the first battle on Election Day with the passage of Proposal 2. Additional attempts to deny same-sex couples the very same benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy are unfortunate manifestations of homophobia —-— clear attempts to discriminate against those who live alternative lifestyles.
The University will contend that Proposal 2 is too narrow to outlaw its domestic partnership benefits. Within the state court system, this is probably the University’s strongest argument. However, if the University loses in the state courts, it should pursue this case through the federal judiciary. The University ought to represent its homosexual employees and argue in federal court that Proposal 2 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the same partnership benefits that heterosexual couples receive. A favorable decision at the appellate court level would repeal parts of Proposal 2 in Michigan at the very least.
The University should use its past defense of affirmative action as guidance and not shy away from the fight at hand. This time, the University will not only be fighting for its own rights, but for the rights of all same-sex couples throughout the state. The University community and Ann Arbor were centers of opposition to Proposal 2 leading up to Nov. 2 They must now rally behind those who find their very way of life under attack. The nobility of the cause is beyond dispute; forces of discrimination must be kept at bay. Once again, the University finds itself at the center of the storm, leading the way in demanding equal rights and justice for all individuals. Let us stand firm.