FARMINGTON – The Coalition for a Fair Michigan is beginning what many community leaders are calling the most monumental battle yet in the LGBT rights movement.
The anti-gay group Citizens for the Protection of Marriage turned in over 482,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on July 5 to get the issue of amending the state’s constitution to ban marriage rights, civil unions, and domestic partnership benefits for same-sex couples in Michigan on the Nov. ballot. The number of valid signatures needed is 317,757. It will take several weeks for the signatures to be processed and verified.
CFM’s Campaign Manager Wendy Howell said, “We are neither surprised nor discouraged by the signatures filed today by our opponents. We know that many of these signatures were gathered under the guise of “protecting marriage” and that many of the good people who signed these petitions will vote no on November 2nd once it becomes clear to them that this goes far beyond simply strengthening the definition of marriage already on the books, and would actually ban any legal recognition of civil unions or domestic partnership rights for unmarried couples. We are prepared to mount and run a winning statewide campaign, and are confident that a majority of Michiganders will choose to vote against this divisive and extreme amendment on November 2nd.”
The language of the amendment reads, “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
“The wording of the petition is so that it would permanently ban same-sex marriage and ban civil unions and domestic partnerships, including the domestic partner registries already in place in some cities,” said Gregory Wright of the Log Cabin Republicans of Michigan. “In the State of Michigan it is already illegal for same-sex couples to marry. The proposed amendment would be another redundant law.”
Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm does not support the amendment for this reason. “The Governor’s position has not changed,” said Mary Dettloff, Granholm’s Deputy Press Secretary. “The Governor does support the current legal definition of marriage, that being between a man and a woman. She is, however, opposed to the amendment and to the ballot initiative because she feels that it is unnecessary and will be a very divisive issue and something that the state really doesn’t need, particularly in an election year.”
Michigan’s LGBT community had hoped the battle over marriage was over when the Michigan House defeated the proposal in March. However, right wing groups began a petition drive to get marriage on the ballot. The initial push for signatures seemed unlikely to meet the goal of 400,000 by July 5. However, a well-funded and coordinated effort headed by Marlene Elwell hired a petition firm to collect signatures for them at $2.50 to $3.00 a signature.
Elwell is no stranger to right wing politics. She has ties to the Michigan Christian Coalition, Tom McMillin, and the Michigan Republican Party. She has worked on the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole, Pat Buchannan and George W. Bush. She lives in Farmington Hills.
During a Tuesday morning radio interview on the Frank Beckman show on 760 WJR, Elwell shrugged off a question about whom the amendment would hurt. “We’re not talking about who harms what,” she said. “It’s not about harming anyone.”
CFM strongly disagrees. Howell was interviewed on Beckman’s show soon after Elwell and pointed out that the amendment was about more than just marriage. The language of the amendment aims to ban civil unions and strip domestic partner benefits from the public sector. This means families who have the benefits could lose them if the amendment passed.
“It’s incredibly upsetting and offensive that right wing extremists have hijacked the Michigan election and will be distracting Michigan voters from things like the economy and the environment and things that are more important to people,” said Sean Kosofsky, Director of Policy at Triangle Foundation, a member of the coalition.
CFM has stepped up its requests for donations and volunteers. “Our community has got to spend a lot of money defending our right to marry,” said Kosofsky. “People should be contributing money to the Coalition For a Fair Michigan. Everybody needs to pitch in as much money as they can immediately so we do not have to worry that the things we need to do on this campaign can be done, we can just do them.”
Kosofsky added, “We’re going to be talking with as many voters as possible and we’re going to turn out the number necessary to win and that’s expensive. In order to educate the voters and move them to the polls, that costs a significant amount of money.”
Education is key according to many CFM members.
“It’s really going to be critical that we educate our allies, our straight allies, families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, people we stand behind in the grocery store line,” said Leslie Thompson, Executive Director of Affirmations.
“The only way that we can win this without creating animosity is to get our straight allies involved and make sure people understand that it’s a civil rights issue, it’s not just a gay issue,” said Mindy Pennington, Chairperson for Perceptions. “I think we have to educate the citizens and the voters of Michigan on what the issues really are, not just the issue of gay marriage. That is where we’re going to win the war.”
“I believe that if the citizens of Michigan are properly informed about this ballot initiative and fully understand the magnitude of the proposed amendment that it will fail. No one in Michigan wants to see another case of institutionalized discrimination,” said Wright.
In order to educate voters the LGBT community will have to not only come together, but also get involved politically in an unprecedented way.
Johnny Jenkins, a CFM steering committee member representing Detroit Black Gay Pride, said, “It’s time for more of us to get involved. We have a lot of good leaders or generals out there, but we need more generals and more foot soldiers out there.” He added, “We’re going to fight for our civil rights. Personally, I’m through begging.”
“I think it’s going to be very divisive for the state and we will just have to rally volunteers and get the straight community, our allies, involved in this fight as well,” said Pennington.
“I’m hoping that it causes the gay community to stop being complacent and get out and vote,” said Thompson. “There are still way too many of us who stay home and we can’t afford to do that now at all. This is no time for apathy.”
Coalition for a Fair Michigan Member Organizations
Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan
American Friends Service Committee
Between The Lines Newspaper
Citizens for a Fair Ferndale
Coalition for Adoption Rights Equality
Detroit Black Gay Pride Inc.
HRC-Michigan Steering Committee
Kalamazoo Gay/Lesbian Resource Center
Log Cabin Republicans- MI Chapter
Michigan Advocates Exchange
Midwest AIDS Prevention Project
New Covenant Community Church
PFLAG Genesee County/Flint
Pride Source Media Group
Pride At Work – Michigan
Religious Coalition for a Fair Michigan
Ruth Ellis Center
Stonewall Bar Association
University of Michigan Graduate Employees Organization, AFT local 3550, AFL-CIO
To join the Coalition please contact campaign manager Wendy Howell at 248-477-7504.