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If there was one single LGBT issue that stood out in 2003 it had to be the issue of same-sex civil marriage. This past year has been one of amazing gains and unprecedented backlash for same-sex couples.
When Canada announced the legalization of same-sex marriage in June, LGBT folks in Michigan celebrated. But LGBT foes were quick to denounce Canada’s “liberal judicial activism” and vowed that same-sex marriages performed in Canada would never be recognized in the U.S.
Then came the sodomy ruling in July. Before the LGBT community could even finish digesting the Canadian marriage news, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Texas sodomy law was unconstitutional, effectively making all statutes against consensual adult sex void across the country and overturning Bowers Vs Hardwick, the 1986 case that upheld the very laws the court was now striking down. Justice Anton Scalia railed against the majority ruling claiming it paved the way for same-sex marriage, exactly what LGBT people hoped and the anti-gay factions feared.
At this point, Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave had already introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment (House Joint Resolution 56) in the U.S. House. The resolution, introduced in May, would amend the United States Constitution to define marriage as exclusively a union between one man and one woman and had over one hundred co-sponsors at year’s end.
Fearing lawsuits by same-sex couples marrying in Canada and demanding equal rights here at home, and nervous that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act might now withstand judicial scrutiny, the U.S. Legislature held a hearing on the matter in Sept. The Senate listened to testimony from both sides of the debate regarding prospects for same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Although President Bush had not yet come out in support of the FMA, he did make comments at a press conference following the sodomy ruling indicating that he supported the idea that marriage should be only between one man and one woman.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, right-wing leaders were mobilizing a campaign in favor of amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Fanning the flames of fear the Canadian same-sex marriage decision and the striking down of sodomy statues had ignited, right-wing leaders and activists mobilized at the local level across the state.
Oakland County Commissioner Tom McMillin, a long-time foe of LGBT rights, introduced a resolution on the county level in support of amending Michigan’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. After a contentious debate, the resolution passed in Sept. by a vote of 14-10. Similar resolutions started cropping up around the state. Some of these resolutions passed in other counties including Jackson, Monroe, and Lapeer. Resolutions were introduced but not passed in Genesee and St. Clair counties. Even some city councils got on the bandwagon: Troy passed a resolution against same-sex marriage while Sylvan Lake passed and then repealed a similar resolution. The Lapeer Resolution blatantly violated the separation of church and state by quoting the Bible to denounce same-sex couples, inspiring a marriage equality rally held in Lapeer in October.
Two days before the Lapeer rally, Senator Alan Cropsey (R-DeWitt) announced his marriage amendment proposal on the state level at a press conference in Lansing. His proposal would amend Michigan’s Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Legal scholars believe the wording of Cropsey’s amendment would nullify domestic partner benefits already being offered in the state. Cropsey is currently drumming up support for his amendment with the help of anti-gay groups like the American Family Association. He has indicated that he will wait until spring for a vote, though the possibility remains that it could be introduced in Michigan’s House.
In an effort to garner support for the FMA, anti-gay groups declared Oct. 12-18 Marriage Protection Week and encouraged politicians to sign a Marriage Protection Pledge indicating that they would support the FMA. President Bush later endorsed MPW. LGBT groups counteracted this movement by declaring the same week Marriage Equality Week.
In the background of all these events was the knowledge that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had yet to rule on the issue of same-sex marriage. The court was several months late with its ruling and activists from both sides of the fence were eagerly awaiting the court’s decision, with many believing that Massachusetts would be the first state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage.
On Nov. 18 the ruling came down: In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to deny same sex couples the right to marry and gave the state legislature 180 days to act. LGBT people rejoiced, right-wing leaders decried the court’s “judicial activism.” It was a historic day in LGBT history, but not one that could be basked in for long.
Less than a week after the MA decision, right before Thanksgiving, the FMA was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado.
Right before the holidays on Dec. 16, President Bush stated his support for the FMA during a television interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC, prompting Matt Foreman, executive director of The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to declare Bush’s statement, “a declaration of war on gay America.”
This issue will prove to be a part of the 2004 Presidential debates as the next 10 months roll by and the nation decides who our next leader of the free world will be.