Though Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, Democratic lawmakers have decided to take action on the issue through the legislature.
On Thursday, a group of Democratic state representatives and senators introduced an array of bills on the issue, chief among them ones which would allow Michigan to become the 38th state to recognize same-sex marriages by both legalizing it and removing the state’s ban.
State Rep. Jeremy Moss (D–Southfield) and State Sen. Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) sponsored legislation to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. State Rep. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor), State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing) and State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) sponsored concurrent legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.
State Rep. Sam Singh (D–East Lansing) and State Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D–Oak Park) also sponsored legislation on related issues, including marriage licenses and tax benefits.
“It’s a whole package of bills, covering a wide variety of things like allowing same sex marriage and recognizing out of state marriages and more,” Wittenberg said.
The legality of same-sex marriage in Michigan has shifted significantly over the past decade. In 2004, voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as only applicable between a man and a woman. In 2012, Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse sued the state over the constitutionality of the amendment, leading to a protracted court battle that concluded in a district court ruling that the ban was unconstitutional. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which overturned the decision, finding the ban constitutional. Rowse and DeBoer are now appealing the case to the Supreme Court, which announced in January that it would take on the case. Oral arguments are scheduled for April 28.
Roughly 300 same-sex couples in Michigan are currently legally married. The couples were married during a roughly 24-hour window between the District Court’s decision, and a stay of the decision requested by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R). The legality of these marriages was reaffirmed in a court ruling Feb. 4.
In a press release Thursday, the first of these couples to marry, Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar, said they believed the legislation would help their community.
“We’re members of a small, exclusive club of same-sex couples who were able to marry during a brief window on March 22, 2014, but we don’t want to be,” DeJong said. “We want to be members of an inclusive club that welcomes any same-sex couple who wishes to marry.”
Though the Supreme Court will be ruling on same-sex legislation, Irwin, a co-sponsor of one of the bills, said he believes that Michigan should get a head start in changing legislation toward being same-sex marriage friendly.
“We’re calling for marriage equality, it’s something that is long overdue in the state of Michigan,” Irwin said. “We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of marriage equality which would certainly help in Michigan — it can’t come quick enough.”
The proposed package of legislation consists of the legalization of same-sex marriage and several other bills to address a variety of policy issues, including whether adoption agencies can bar same-sex couples.
If successful, the bill will ban adoption agencies from discrimination based on religious beliefs and will open the doors to many same-sex couples who are interested in adopting.
“I think that if there is a vetted, qualified adult that is willing to raise a child, then we shouldn’t have any obstacles for them to be able to raise the child here,” Wittenberg said. “We have a lot of kids in the foster care system here, and we want to make sure that they’re adopted and that they are taken by a loving family.”
The package of bills also addresses issues such as allowing same-sex couples to file state taxes jointly. Another bill, sponsored by Wittenberg, allows any couple, including same-sex couples, to keep their marriage licenses private.
Wittenberg said he, along with the other representatives and senators who proposed bills, hope to work legislatively with Republicans to push these bills forward.
“We’re all working together, and we’re hoping to work with some of the Republicans across the aisle,” Wittenberg said. “We would love to take care of it legislatively. We’re hoping that we wouldn’t have to go the ballot but if that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we need to do. We’re going to try to drum up the support of our Republican colleagues and get as many people on board as possible, and try to talk to them about this being a fairness thing and equality.”
Republicans — who led the charge for passing the original ban in 2004 — have traditionally been less inclined to support the legalization of same-sex marriage. Republican majorities currently control both houses of the legislature, which could present a challenge for the bill’s backers.
In response to the package of bills, Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, said the House hasn’t received the bills yet, but plans to address the package with the normal process.
“Once we actually receive the bills, we’re going to refer them to the committee,” D’Assandro said. “Then our plan is to let them go through the normal committee process, which is that they go to committee and then the committee chair determines when they get taken up for a hearing and what the timeline is.”
He added that he couldn’t comment further until the House formally receives the bills.