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By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
BANGOR, Mich. – A lesbian couple have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down Proposal 2, the anti-marriage amendment passed in November 2004. However, the couple is also in talks with the American Civil Liberties Union to decide “the best strategy for the LGBT community,” according to a joint statement by plaintiff Jessie N. Olson and Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the LGBT Project.
The suit, which was filed June 8, challenges the anti-family amendment on equal protection grounds, claiming that it violates the U.S. Constitution. This argument was successfully used to strike down an even more stringent anti-family constitutional amendment in Nebraska last month. The Michigan suit was filed by Olson on behalf of herself and her partner Tabitha Flatau with the federal district court for the Western District of Michigan, and lists Governor Jennifer Granholm and Attorney General Mike Cox as defendants.
Olson and Flatau call the amendment “divisive, discriminatory and hateful” in a letter sent to BTL accompanying a copy of the suit.
“Proponents of the proposal LIED to the public as to its intent and effects,” the letter read. “For instance, they clearly and repeatedly said it WOULD NOT remove benefits from families headed by same-sex couples. To date, that has been its ONLY effect.”
The letter continued, “It is hard – no, IMPOSSIBLE – to see how wrenching away the health care support from the children of same-sex couples will have ANY beneficial effect on the problems faced by heterosexual couples – divorce, drug abuse, infidelity, neglect and abuse of their children, unemployment, unless the intent is to harm same-sex family groups to the extent that heterosexual couples look better by comparison.”
“It is strictly unconstitutional – un-American to tell any group of people that you cannot have these rights no matter what you do,” said Olson in a June 10 interview with Grand Rapids local television station Wood 8.
Several Michigan couples have already filed suit in state court seeking to limit the scope of Proposal 2, which supporters claimed was solely about “protecting” marriage against same-sex couples. However, after the amendment’s passage anti-gay groups began targeting domestic partnership benefits. In March, Attorney General Cox issued an opinion stating that Proposal 2 prohibits municipal employers from providing essential health insurance and other benefits to the families of gay and lesbian employees. The couples in that suit are being represented by the ACLU.
If Olson and her partner lose the federal suit, the resulting opinion might block the ability to limit the scope of Proposal 2 on a state level.
“We still believe that the best strategy is to focus on a state court interpretation of the amendment and we’re in the process of reviewing [Olson’s] federal complaint,” said Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project.
After a June 13 meeting with ACLU representatives, Olson seemed to agree.
“We sat down and agreed that they should finish their case,” she said.