Michigan residents will vote on a proposal Tuesday that could
spark a legal controversy over same-sex marriage, which ultimately
may be resolved in the courts.

State laws already prohibit gay marriages, but Proposal 2 would
amend the state Constitution by defining “a marriage or
similar union” as strictly between a man and woman. Opponents
claim that the measure would also ban civil unions and deny
benefits from all unmarried couples.

If recent polls are any indication, the proposal will likely
pass. In an EPIC/MRA poll conducted last week among 610 likely
voters, 57 percent of respondents said they favored Proposal 2
while 39 percent said they opposed the measure.

Kristina Hemphill, spokeswoman for Citizens for the Protection
of Marriage, which collected the required signatures to put the
proposal on the ballot, said an amendment would “keep
Michigan from going through the fiasco that has occurred in other
states.”

In February, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the
state must recognize same-sex marriages. In San Francisco, city
leaders gained national attention by granting marriage licenses to
hundreds of gay couples against state law, but the California
Supreme Court invalidated the licenses in August.

Dana Houle, spokesman for the Coalition for a Fair Michigan,
said a constitutional ban is unnecessary because gay marriage is
already illegal in the state. CFM is a group of organizations and
voters who oppose Proposal 2.

Section 1 of the state marriage code states: “Marriage is
inherently a unique relationship between a man and a woman …
A marriage contracted between individuals of the same sex is
invalid in this state.” In sections 2 through 4, marriage is
defined as “a civil contract between a man and a woman”
and same-sex marriage is explicitly prohibited.

But if it passes, the proposal would also erect a legal obstacle
to future civil unions, Houle said. Such partnerships, though not
currently recognized in Michigan, would entitle gay couples to the
same legal benefits under state law as heterosexual married
couples. Partners in civil unions would not qualify for federal
benefits.

Houle said the proposal would affect heterosexual as well as
same-sex couples. “Unmarried couples will lose health and
pension benefits,” he said.

Houle said the domestic benefits offered to unmarried couples by
public employers — including the University — and
private-sector companies contracted by the state could be denied.
He said even couples that receive benefits from private-sector
employers may face difficulties because public servants grant the
legal status of domestic partnerships and would be required to
enforce Proposal 2 if it passes.

But Hemphill said marriage does not necessarily guarantee
benefits, adding, “This was never an issue that had anything
to do with benefits.” She said the immediate cause of the
proposal was the recent developments in Massachusetts and
California.

Hemphill said supporters of the measure know same-sex marriage
is already illegal under state law, but that such legal
prohibitions did not prevent the issue from being revived in other
states.

University President Mary Sue Coleman said Proposal 2, if
passed, would not affect domestic benefits offered to University
employees and that the University will defend its right to offer
those benefits in court if that right is challenged.

In fact, Proposal 2’s constitutionality will most likely
be decided in the courts.

“If it passes, there will probably be litigation,”
said Judge Jessica Cooper of the State Appeals Court. The question
of what benefits will be affected if the proposal passes
“will probably be resolved in the courts,” she
added.

Ten other states also have proposals that could ban gay marriage
on their ballots for Tuesday’s elections.

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