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CITY PULSE — Michigan's marriage amendment "one of the worst in the country"

June 8, 2011
Which means, from our perspective,
one of the “best in the country”…

When reading the dramatic testimonial below to AFA-Michigan’s effectiveness in protecting the institution of marriage in Michigan, please note these points of history:

* AFA-Michigan took responsibility for providing leadership on the issue, being the first organization (and a thereafter unrelenting voice) to publicly call for passage of a Marriage Protection Amendment to Michigan’s state constitution. Starting in June 2003 the day an Ontario, Canada court declared so-called homosexual “marriage” legal right across the bridge from Detroit, Port Huron, and Sault Ste. Marie.

* AFA-Michigan President Gary Glenn and Ave Maria University Law School Professor Pat Gillen co-authored the actual language of Michigan’s amendment, now used as a model for other states’ marriage amendments.

* AFA-Michigan’s Glenn was one of the primary public and media spokespersons statewide throughout the seven-month month petition drive and ballot campaign in support of the amendment, which was approved by nearly 60 percent of Michigan voters in November 2004.

* After voter approval, Glenn was asked to help coach and prepare the trial attorneys of Attorney General Mike Cox’s office who successfully defended the Marriage Protection Amendment before the Michigan Supreme Court.

* The Supreme Court quoted or cited AFA-Michigan’s arguments three times in its 5-to-2 decision upholding the Marriage Protection Amendment and its full enforcement.

* An even more recent poll than the one cited in the article below showed just how broad support for Michigan’s amendment is. According to a September 2009 poll by Lansing Democratic pollster Mark Grebner, 90 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents, and half of all Democrats in Michigan said they would vote against a ballot measure seeking to repeal the amendment.

This powerful testimonial is just the latest tribute to AFA-Michigan’s effectiveness, and further proof of the substantive return on the investment you make in supporting our work. Please read the article below.

Then, please renew or increase your investment today in a strong, unflinching, and effective voice for marriage and traditional family values in Michgan. Make your tax-deductible contribution by credit card online here: http://bit.ly/kuE98X. Or by mail to AFA-Michigan, PO Box 1904, Midland, MI 48641.

Thank you, and God bless and strengthen you and your family!

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“Michigan’s constitutional (Marriage Protection Amendment) amendment forbids the recognition of same-sex marriages ‘as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.’ …’One of the worst in the country’ — that’s how Tobias Barrington Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, described Michigan’s anti-gay-marriage amendment. Wolff was chief adviser and spokesman for Barack Obama on Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender issues during the 2007-08 campaign. …Super-DOMAs like Michigan’s or Virginia’s ban all forms of recognition for same-sex relationships.

When looking at Michigan, (City University of New York political science professor Daniel) Pinello concluded that one development was the most significant of all. The first and only time a state Supreme Court brought the super-DOMA hammer down on lesbian and gay couples was in National Pride at Work, Inc. v. Governor of Michigan (2008), where the court interpreted the words ‘or similar union for any purpose’ of Proposal 2 to bar health insurance benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. Pinello called it ‘the clearest example of an actual, tangible, statewide loss for gay and lesbian couples’ in the nation based on a super-DOMA.

‘They were wily,’ Pinello said of Proposal 2’s Michigan backers. ‘They intended to immortalize the opinion of the day into the future.'”

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CITY PULSE
Lansing, Michigan
June 8, 2011

State of tarnished pride

Despite cultural and social gains, Proposal
2 makes Michigan a difficult place to live

by Lawrence Cosentino

In 2000, Michael Falk came to Ann Arbor with his partner, Matthew, to begin a promising career in materials science. He was 31 years old. By 2002, Falk’s teaching and research at the University of Michigan earned him an Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation.
The prize goes to young scientists who show they are likely to “build a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.” Falk got another award, for excellence in teaching, in 2005.

Falk works with the tiniest bits of semiconductor crystals and other nano-stuff that’s crucial to cutting-edge computer technology. He studies how these substances fail under high temperature. Everything has a breaking point.

Last year, thanks to Michigan’s 2004 anti-gay constitutional amendment and its ongoing legislative and legal fallout, Falk moved to Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University to build his “lifetime of leadership” in another state. He and his partner were married in Washington last summer.

“It just felt like we were under attack,” Falk said. “It made us reconsider our long-term desire to make Michigan our home.”

Despite a dramatic rise in public acceptance of gay and lesbian rights among a wider public, Proposal 2 and its chain reactions continue to make Michigan radioactive for much of the LGBT community.

Michigan’s constitutional amendment forbids the recognition of same-sex marriages “as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”

No matter how fast gays and lesbians gain social or cultural acceptance, no matter how many local human rights ordinances are passed, no matter how many shows of support come from this or that straight institution, Proposal 2 hangs like a sword of Damocles over the LBGT community, making Michigan seem like a hostile environment.

“One of the worst in the country” — that’s how Tobias Barrington Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, described Michigan’s anti-gay-marriage amendment. Wolff was chief adviser and spokesman for Barack Obama on LGBT issues during the 2007-08 campaign.

“It just seems like a gratuitous effort to punish and be cruel toward three or four hundred thousand Michigan citizens,” Wolff said. “It makes it harder for them to find the person they’re going to share their life with, make a happy and successful home together and contribute to a larger community.”

The stories drip from Lansing, week by week. When state universities tried to find another way to extend benefits to same-sex couples, legislators moved to cut their state funding by an extra 5 percent. When the Civil Service Commission voted to extend the benefits to state employees, the attorney general sued to stop them. Thanks to Proposal 2, these countermoves and others like them can fly under color of “the law of the land” and “the will of the people.” But the political headlines don’t begin to describe how Proposal 2 has affected life in Michigan, not just for gays and lesbians, but for everyone.

Attack of the super-DOMA

A New York researcher has begun the first systematic study on how constitutional amendments like Michigan’s affect individual lives. Daniel Pinello, a professor of political science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, has a name for amendments like Michigan’s. He calls them “super-DOMAs,” after the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In Pinello’s lingo, “mini-DOMAs,” like California’s famous Proposition 8 or Oregon’s Measure 36, only limit marriage to one man and one woman. Super-DOMAs like Michigan’s or Virginia’s ban all forms of recognition for same-sex relationships.

Wolff calls them “desperate attempts to amend state constitutions to turn gay people into second-class citizens.” The broad language of super-DOMAs gave birth to an unpredictable, hydra-headed legal monster in Michigan.

Pinello is working on a book about the national flare-up of anti-gay constitutional amendments and its consequences. He has released a preliminary study focusing on four or the 19 states with super-DOMAs, including Michigan. For the study, he interviewed 23 same-sex couples in Michigan (75 couples in all).

Pinello kept the names confidential, but he found the tentacles of Proposal 2 extending into unexpected corners of LGBT lives.

He found direct consequences even before came here to do research in 2009. By coincidence, one of his colleagues at CUNY went to law school in Michigan with her lesbian partner. In 2004, shortly after Proposition 2 passed, the woman was offered a position at the University of Michigan.

“This couple agonized for a couple of weeks,” Pinello said. Had they moved, they would have been reunited with a large extended family and enjoyed a drastically lower cost of living.

But the couple didn’t return to Michigan.

“They told me they just couldn’t do it, given the legal environment,” Pinello said.

While doing research in Michigan, Pinello talked to a tenured professor at Oakland University, 15 years older than her partner, who had to back out of buying a “perfect house” near campus. The house was in an area reserved for Oakland University staff and spouses. If the professor died, she was told, her partner would have to leave the house.

Pinello also interviewed an heiress living in a northern suburb of Detroit. The heiress’s grandparents set up a trust that left a large estate to her, her two brothers and their “legal spouses.”

The heiress and her lesbian partner have been together for 20 years, but if she dies, her partner would get nothing while her brothers’ wives would have full shares.

“There’s nothing they can do to get the partner recognized,” Pinello said.

To make the case more perverse, the brothers and their wives offered to welcome their sister’s partner into the family in some official way, but the trustee refused to hear them.

Pinello also talked with a student at the University of Michigan medical school who had tried to persuade a friend, a top hospital administrator in New England, to apply for a similar job at U. of M.

The friend, a lesbian, wouldn’t consider applying for the position, given the legal status of gays and lesbians in Michigan.

Pinello said he has only found the tip of the iceberg. He pointed out that his respondents, found via the Gay Yellow Pages, were relatively well heeled and educated.

“I didn’t have access to the most heart-rending stories, which are going on out in the hinterlands,” he said. “People are schoolteachers and can’t get health insurance for their partners, they’re raising children and they’re frightened to talk to anyone. The more telling stories are probably invisible.”

When looking at Michigan, Pinello concluded that one development was the most significant of all.

The first, and only, time a state Supreme Court brought the super-DOMA hammer down on lesbian and gay couples was in National Pride at Work, Inc. v. Governor of Michigan (2008), where the court interpreted the words “or similar union for any purpose” of Proposal 2 to bar health insurance benefits for same-sex partners of state employees.

Pinello called it “the clearest example of an actual, tangible, statewide loss for gay and lesbian couples” in the nation based on a super-DOMA.

But there were also intangible losses, harder to quantify but no less damaging.

“The effects of Super-DOMAs on same-sex couples, revealed time and again in interviews, are fear and depression,” Pinello said.

There are many painful questions gays and lesbians must ask themselves if they live in Michigan. Will we end up in separate nursing homes? Will a biological son or daughter assert legally recognized rights and contest a document? Will I be able to visit a loved one in the hospital?

Same-sex pairs in Michigan repeatedly told Pinello they would be fearful to be hospitalized anywhere in the state except Ann Arbor.

Only 28 percent of the couples Pinello interviewed felt confident their legal papers (wills, living wills, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies, etc.) would be honored when the time came, especially if they met with illness or accident away from home.

Penny Gardner, president of Lansing Association for Human Rights, is familiar with these fears.

Gardner doesn’t care much about marriage (“it’s patriarchal and Christian and phhhhh”) but cares about the legal and civic recognition it would bring.

“I’m virtually married to my partner, Marilyn, for 15 years, but she has no legal standing,” Gardner said. “”My kids do. They’re fine kids, but who’s to know?”

Buyer’s remorse

The irony of Proposal 2 is that Michigan’s electorate may already be feeling remorse for the full-body, gay-bashing tattoo it impulsively bought in 2004.

Poll numbers are shifting fast, especially for a hot-button social issue. When the Glengariff Group conducted a random survey of registered Michigan voters in June 2009, pollsters found a “seismic shift among Michigan voters on the issue of gay marriage and civil unions” since October 2004. Support for civil unions went from 42 percent to 63.7 percent, a 52 percent increase. Support for gay marriage went from 24 to 46.5 percent, a 94 percent increase.

In a milestone CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Tuesday, April 19, 51 percent said they think marriages between lesbians and gay couples should be recognized as legal, up from 44 percent in 2009. For the first time in history, support for gay marriage punched into the majority in a national poll.

“Every day it becomes more and more apparent that [Proposal 2] is out of step with majority sentiment around the country and, I think, in the state of Michigan,” Wolff said.

“The more hostile opinion of six years ago, memorialized in Proposal 2, appears to control how gay and lesbian couples are treated there now,” Pinello said.

Democratic action via constitutional amendments is a novelty in the United States. Legislatures can repeal laws, but it’s much more cumbersome process to change a state constitution.

“They were wily,” Pinello said of Proposal 2’s Michigan backers. “They intended to immortalize the opinion of the day into the future.”

Removing the tattoo will probably be a long and painful operation.

Pinello isn’t rushing his book. He’s confident history will not leap forward and make his work moot anytime soon.

“I don’t see things improving for a long, long time,” Pinello said. “If there’s any salvation, it will come from the U.S. Supreme Court. Barring that, it’s unlikely that there will be the political will to repeal these awful amendments.”

Wolff said it would either take “a mobilized effort by state legislatures and the people, or action by the federal courts.” Nevertheless, when Pinello asked gay and lesbian couples if they have thought of moving out of the Michigan, he was amazed at the answers.

“Most of them have not,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘I was born and raised a Michigander, I’ll stay here and fight.’”

Pinello wasn’t shy about comparing what he heard to rationales offered by Jews who didn’t leave Germany in the 1930s.

“There were all these signs of increasing hostility, but people were saying very similar things,” Pinello said. “‘I’m as German as Hitler.’ ‘It’s a passing thing.’ ‘I’m going to stay and fight.’ ‘Things will get better.’”

You won’t get any Weimar Germany delusions from Dennis Hall, a retired State of Michigan worker who lives in Lansing. Hall has trouble buying the argument that a small group of rabid legislators are to blame for Proposal 2 and its fallout.

“If people of Michigan were really tolerant, they wouldn’t be voting for these people they keep putting in office,” he said. “It’s a frustrating feeling to be gay and living in Michigan, to be honest. I really don’t feel comfortable in this state anymore.”

The rain of legal and legislative blows, large and small, takes a toll. Hall was aghast at a measure proposed in April to require universities that have accredited counseling programs to report to the state Legislature on how students’ religious beliefs are accommodated. The measure was proposed when an Eastern Michigan University counselor was fired after refusing to counsel a gay student. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, filed a brief in support of the fired counselor.

Hall is angry that lawmakers would busy themselves with inserting such a provision when LGBT rights are actively suppressed across the board.

“When are they going to put something in the boilerplate that says something positive about us?” Hall said.

Hall said he’s had it. As soon as his partner retires, he’s leaving the state.

“I’ve been all around the country, and Michigan is the most beautiful state in the United States, but I would leave it in a heartbeat,” he said.

When fear penetrates Michigan that deeply, the whole state suffers incalculable loss.

“The 50 states are a marketplace, and talent that is mobile will take that into account,” Pinello said.

When Michael Falk left Ann Arbor last year, the University of Michigan lost more than a promising scientist. Falk walked away from a start-up package of computer and lab equipment, customized to his research needs, worth about $300,000.

“They support you when you’re an assistant professor while you’re getting up to speed as an academic,” he said. “It’s obviously better for the university if you stay on and spend your most productive years in this institution that’s made a big investment in you.”

Falk stays in touch with friends in Ann Arbor who were relieved when the University of Michigan offered “other qualified adult” benefits, but he’s glad he moved to Baltimore.

“To us, it looked like a patch, until that gets challenged, and then what happens?” Falk asked. Watching the situation from afar, he was not surprised to learn that the Michigan legislature came close to penalizing universities that still offer benefits to same-sex couples by cutting funding an extra 5 percent.

Proposal 2 gave legislators like State Rep. Dave Agema the constitutional cover to claim that universities who offered benefits to same-sex couples were putting themselves “above the law and the will of the people.”

Michigan’s Civil Service Commission voted to extend benefits to same-sex partners of state employees in January 2011.The state’s Legislature fell short in an effort to overturn the ruling, but Schuette has sued to stop the benefits, Gov. Rick Snyder has warned that the state can’t afford them, and some Republican legislators, outraged by the Civil Service Commission’s ruling, want to abolish the commission altogether.

“This is not the end of story,” Falk said. “We’re very concerned for our friends in Michigan. Some are couples with kids. The parent who’s taking care of the children is the one whose benefits depends on the university.”

A bill recognizing same-sex marriage narrowly missed passage in the Maryland legislature this spring, but Falk is hopeful it will go through in the near future.

“It’s good to be in a place where things are moving in the right direction,” Falk said.

http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-5957-state-of-tarnished-pride.html
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