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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Move Forward Michigan Part 2 - LGBT Partnership recognition, rights and benefits

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An IU News & Talk Original Series
By Columist Joel M. 

Review Part One of the Move Forward Michigan Series Here

One of the most obvious ways that gay and lesbian couples face discrimination in Michigan is, of course, due to a lack of legal recognition such as civil unions or marriage. Although Michigan voted to ban gay marriage in 2004 by a wide margin – nearly 59% voting in favor of the ban – there are many signs that the state’s ban on marriage equality may be in its final days.

Two recent polls – one conducted by Michigan State University in November of 2012 and another conducted by Glengariff in May of 2013 – both indicate that Michiganders’ view on gay marriage has undergone a substantial transformation with over 56% of respondents indicating their support for gay marriage.

While gay marriage supporters envision a possible 2014 or 2016 referendum to repeal the state’s gay marriage ban, there are legal challenges taking place in the meanwhile.

In a recent IU interview with Tim LaCroix, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Tribe of Odawa Indians who was married through his tribe to his partner of 30 years earlier this year, LaCroix described the uncharted territory of being married in a state where gay marriage is not legally recognized.
“The question is,” LaCroix explains, “since we are legally married within Michigan by my tribe and the state does not allow it and now the federal government through the DOMA case [recognizes our marriage], how does that now impact the state and our marriage?”
“It does have some questions that we cannot answer. We have a couple of attorneys looking into the possibility of what to do next, especially when it comes to taxes… For that, we will have to keep you posted.”

LaCroix and Barfield are not the only two challenging Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. Following the Supreme Court’s 5 – 4 ruling overturning DOMA in June of this year, a federal judge in Detroit has agreed to hear the case of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, a metro Detroit couple who have been fighting for joint custody of their three adopted children. As the law stands now, DeBoer has legal custody of one of their children while Rowse has legal custody of the other two. The hearing is scheduled for October 1st of this year.

Regardless of the outcomes of these two cases, there has already been some good news for gay and lesbian couples in Michigan. Just days after the Supreme Court’s decision, another judge issued an injunction against a bill signed by Governor Snyder which made it illegal for cities, counties and school districts to extend benefits to unmarried couples. While a final ruling has not yet been issued, the injunction means that these school districts and municipalities can begin offering same-sex couples benefits once again.

Before the ban was enforced, Ann Arbor, East Lansing and Kalamazoo were the only three Michigan cities to offer unmarried couples such benefits. Several school districts also offered benefits along with Ingham and Washtenaw counties. Ypsilanti’s city council, however, moved last week to extend benefits to unmarried city employees.
According to a statement on the website of Michigan’s ACLU chapter, “Judge Lawson recognized, as the Supreme Court did, that the Constitution forbids the government from passing laws with a motive to discriminate against gay people.”
At the time he signed the bill into law, Governor Snyder vetoed portions of the bill that would have prohibited public universities from offering domestic partnership benefits to unmarried couples.

In a statement on the governor’s website issued at the time, “Snyder reiterated the fact that higher education institutions would not be included in H.B. 4770 as the constitutional autonomy of universities has been reviewed and affirmed many times by the courts since the adoption of the 1963 Michigan Constitution.”

The statement goes on to cite the “spiraling costs of health care” as the reasoning behind the ban.

In our interview with Tim LaCroix, we asked what it meant to him to be able to marry his longtime partner Gene Barfield beyond the legal protections and benefits that would go along with it.
“I wish I could answer it without it sounding corny or lame. It adds a whole new aspect to our relationship – which I really didn't think would happen after 30 years. Just to be able to call him my husband. It has new meaning and when we go out we can correct people and say this is my husband and we are married and we are a couple and have been one for 30 years but now we have the license to prove it. I just wish Gene’s mom and my parents were alive to see this.”
The Independent Underground will be continuing our LGBT rights in Michigan series next week. Topics we still have to cover: workplace discrimination, housing discrimination, and adoption. If you have any specific questions that you would like answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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