By Dawn Wolfe
Poll numbers released by CNN on Sept. 21 showed that support for Proposal 2, which would ban recognition of marriages of same-sex couples, civil unions and domestic partnerships between all couples, had fallen to 45 percent.
The question is, why the drop in support? Has Michigan suddenly become a bastion of common sense and equality? Or, did the proposal’s supporters make a fatal misstep in targeting domestic partnership benefits as well as equal marriage rights?
Rather than targeting equal marriage rights alone, like the recently-passed Missouri proposal, Proposal 2 says that, “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 inclusion of the words, “or similar union,” may well be the reason that Proposal 2 is losing support among Michigan voters.
An article in the Sept. 23 edition of the Michigan Information and Research Service (MIRS) speculated that, “In addition, it seemed probable that the same measure in resolution form, HJR U, might well have reached two-thirds threshold for passage in the House had it not been for those words.”
In other words, banning equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians might be a fine idea in the eyes of many Michigan voters and legislators; banning recognition of civil unions and domestic partner benefits for all couples, however, is not.
During the week of Sept. 20, MIRS asked some third-term state House members to speculate as to the possible effect of the proposal’s inclusion of the words, “or similar union,” might have at the polls.
Rep. Paul Gieleghem (D-Clinton Twp.) told MIRS he’s not convinced opposition to the proposal is galvanized around just those three words.
“Maybe, but I think a very big part of the problem they’re having is that people just don’t like tinkering with the constitution,” Gieleghem told MIRS. “When I talk to people about this I can point out seven laws we already have on the books that say we don’t recognize gay marriage.”
“I think the Constitution exists primarily to protect rights, not limit them,” Gieleghem also told MIRS.
Rep. Doug Hart (R-Rockford), who voted against HJR U when it came before the House, told MIRS that he thought including “or other unions” could prove to be a mistake.
“They could have made this proposal clear and concise, but they had another agenda,” Hart told MIRS. “Most of the people who signed the petition believed it was about gay marriage. But those people who were behind this deceived them. Now, if this is defeated, they may well have mortally wounded their own primary cause.”
Hart also told MIRS that he feared the wording could have unintended consequences. “I think the Legislature should have the ability to deal with issues that might pop up in regard to things like, well, for instance, hospital visitation,” Hart told MIRS. “To try to put these kinds of ambiguous things in the constitution is a mistake and doesn’t do justice to the many people who signed the petition in good faith.”
Dana Houle, Political Director for the Coalition for a Fair Michigan, says the poll numbers prove that the Proposal’s sponsors were over-reaching; an arrogance that the Coalition has put to good use.
“It shows that the campaign is succeeding in educating voters on the effects of this amendment that go well beyond marriage to include civil unions, domestic partner benefits, and collective bargaining between unions and employers,” Houle told BTL.
Chris Swope, executive director of Michigan Equality and candidate for re-election to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, agreed that the proposal’s scope may be its downfall.
“I think they went too far. They tried to forestall any possibility of any kind of recognition, and I think it’s going to backfire on them,” he said.
Michigan Pride PAC’S Sean Kosofsky claims that the proposal was in trouble from the beginning.
“First of all, in order to pass a ballot proposal in Michigan, you need to start with at least 60% support. Period. Any issue. Depending on the poll, the other side wasn’t too safe when they started, with maybe 50-60%. [The] opponents are going to make their proposal look like Swiss cheese by election day.”
As for the proposal’s wording, Kosofsky offered a mixed review.
“I don’t think the public is responding to the text of this thing; they’re responding to their impression of it,” he said. “This is the proposal that’s going to take their insurance away.”