Last week’s Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision provided another blow
to gays and lesbians in the state. The court ruled that the so-called marriage amendment to Michigan’s Constitution prohibits public employers from providing domestic partner benefits. The court explained that public employers providing benefits to gay and lesbian couples “recognizes” a “similar union” to a marriage and thus, runs contrary to the amendment.
While I find the outcome frustrating, what I find even more troubling is the fact that amendment supporters before the election gave Michigan voters assurances that the proposed language was not aimed at denying benefits. Indeed, prior to the election, proponents in the press said, “This has nothing to do with taking benefits away.” Over and over supporters, including influential churches, claimed that this was only about defining marriage as between a man and woman.
We fast forward now two and a half years since voters approved the measure, and we realize the supporters of the amendment misled the public of its far-reaching effects on families who now may lose health benefits.
Reading the court’s opinion is disturbing The judges basically wrote that there was no need to determine the voters’ intent in passing the amendment because it was clear from its language that it prohibited public employers from providing same-sex benefits. If it were so clear from the language, why did amendment supporters publicly state that it wasn’t intended to prohibit benefits?
We often hear from conservative commentators that liberal “activist judges” do not follow the law. But last week’s Michigan Court of Appeals decision is a clear example of conservative judges making value judgments about a case and then hiding behind the statutory interpretation and claiming that the amendment made them do it.
It is clear what Michigan voters intended when they went to the polls in November of 2004: to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Claims now that voters should have known from the amendment’s broad language that it also would outlaw domestic partner benefits is disingenuous at best. This decision is just another assault on gays and lesbians, some of whom are struggling to raise families in this state.