Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
FERNDALE – When Affirmations Lesbian-Gay Community Center announced an open forum on marriage equality for gays, the demand for such was so great the meeting had to be moved off the center’s premises to accommodate the expected crowd. A smart move, nearly 200 LGBTs packed into nearby Club Q to take on the topic Thursday, Feb. 26.
At first glance the gathering appeared somewhat frivolous – a panel of six seated at high-top cocktail tables underneath a mammoth glittering disco ball – but the somber tone of the subdued mass made evident the seriousness of the issue even before the meeting, called Marriage in 2004 – What you should know, began.
Opening remarks logically focused on President Bush, his statements in favor of amending the U.S. Constitution only two days old at the time.
“He made history as the first president ever to advocate writing discrimination into the constitution,” said Jay Kaplan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “It is neither compassionate nor is it conservative. It is an extremely, extremely radical proposal.”
Kaplan was joined on the panel by Soulforce Michigan co-founder Jennifer Adriel, openly-gay Oakland County Commissioner David Coulter and Beverly Davidson of Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality. But it was the ACLU attorney and legal expert who fielded most of the questions from moderator Erin Adriel.
“With our economy doing so poorly, with Michigan’s unemployment rate higher than the national average, why are we looking at this issue?” Kaplan asked. “Whose marriage are we trying to protect?”
Kaplan made it abundantly clear that the issue was not a religious one.
“We’re not talking about religious marriage,” he said. “The first amendment to our Constitution calls for a separation of church and state.”
So the issue becomes civil, legal marriage, and the 1,049 federal rights that come with it. Religious leaders need not get involved in the argument, panelists said, because even in the event that marriage for gays should become the law, no church would required to perform such ceremonies. Instead, just as they do today, each religious denomination would continue to decide whom they will and will not marry.
“The Catholic church will not marry divorced Catholics, [but] the government will,” said Jennifer Adriel. “The government doesn’t care. Why does the government want to care about this?”
The answer, said Kaplan, is simple.
“They want to ensure that there is no form of legal recognition for our relationships,” he said.
Coulter said the religious right used this issue “to mobilize their forces… and to get in the paper.”
“It’s obvious to people who are openly gay and their supporters why this is a bad idea, but don’t assume it’s obvious to everyone why this is a bad idea,” Coulter continued. “I really believe this is the civil rights battle of our generation. It wasn’t very long ago that our law said that black and white people could not marry.”
But just as the civil rights movement of the 60s was one of countless sit-ins, demonstrations and marches, the panelists all agreed that the time for action was now and urged those in the audience not to back down from the symbolic Billy clubs and hoses some politicians are pointing.
“People are talking about taking away our civil rights and writing it into the constitution forever,” said Kaplan. “How could we accept something like that? We need to keep contacting our legislators….We have to keep the pressure on.”
State Senator Gilda Jacobs (D – Huntington Woods), made a special appearance at the end of the meeting to echo that sentiment.
“For people that you know are not on the right side of this issue, keep those letters and those emails and calls coming,” Jacobs said. “Family values are not the family values that the right wing has.”
And if the action doesn’t come, “complacency is going to bite us in the butt,” warned Jennifer Adriel.
Still, there is cause for hope.
“While we react to the backlash,” encouraged Coulter, “don’t forget that the tide is changing toward acceptance of gay people.”