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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hannah Community Center in East Lansing Host Panel on State of LGBT Non-Discrimination Rights for Michigan

Photo Credit - IU News & Talk
By IU News & Talk 
Columnist - Joel M.

On Thursday, over 150 concerned citizens came together at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing to hear panelists speak about the state of LGBT rights in Michigan. The panelists offered a diverse range of perspectives, beginning with Jay Kaplan of the Michigan ACLU who began the panel by addressing the biggest game-changer in years: the Supreme Court’s July decision in June to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

One of the most immediate concerns of the night was addressing a legal case closer to home involving two Metro Detroit parents, Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, who are suing for the joint custody of their three foster children. The judge presiding in the case, Judge Friedman, encouraged the couple to file a case challenging not only Michigan’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples, but also to file a case against Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Speculation on the part of the panel held that there could be a “window of opportunity” in October following the judge’s ruling where marriage could be legal – but only briefly.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum made it clear that her office would make it a priority to wed anyone seeking to take advantage of this narrow timeframe.
“We have decided that if there is a window of opportunity, we’re going to walk right through that window,” Byrum claimed. “We will stay up all night long,” Byrum said.
If there is a window of opportunity, Byrum will most likely perform the ceremonies in the Mason branch of the Ingham County Clerk’s office. The judge’s decision is expected on Oct. 16.

After Byrum fielded questions from the audience, Emily Dievendorf of Equality Michigan spoke about her efforts to organize a coalition for marriage equality. Dievendorf is now insisting on a 2016 target date, explaining that although Michiganders are consistently polling strongly in favor of marriage equality, voter turnout is always lower during midterms as many young voters in particular only vote in presidential elections.

“We can’t go to the ballot and lose. If we go to the ballot and lose, we won’t get support for a marriage campaign in Michigan for maybe a decade," Dievendorf cited.
Dievendorf also noted that running a successful campaign is going to be both labor-intensive and expensive, costing anywhere from $12 to 26 million – the lower end of that range, however, is optimistic according to the director of Equality Michigan. Additionally, to get the measure on the ballot, Dievendorf’s coalition will be seeking 650,000 signatures – or twice the number required by state law to ensure that a large enough proportion of the signatures will be validated to bring the matter to a vote.

Gina Calcagno of the One Capital Region Campaign was the final panelist to speak. While Equality Michigan focuses on statewide issues and lobbies for the advancement of the LGBT community in Michigan’s capital, the OCR Campaign keeps its focus on the local level. The OCR Campaign has been working to pass non-discrimination ordinances in cities and townships around Lansing and East Lansing.

Since Michigan has not yet chosen to extend its workplace protections to the LGBT community, people can legally be fired because they are gay, lesbian, bi or transgender – or simply because they are perceived to be non-gender conforming.

While Calcagno threw her support behind statewide initiatives such as the campaign for marriage equality, she cited frustrations with the Michigan Legislature as part of the reason behind her efforts on the local level. Moreover, even if marriage equality passes in 2016, it won’t mean full equality for the Michigan LGBT community if there are still no protections in place in the workplace or in housing.
“We don’t want people to get married on Saturday and fired on Monday,” Calcagno said.
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