We Won A Thing: Michigan Judge Rules Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

During the first week of March, Michigan watched a two-week trial meant to decide whether the state would continue to uphold its ban against same-sex marriage. Today, Judge Bernard Friedman declared the ban unconstitutional. There’s been no stay of the ruling (like the one that kept California’s couples from marrying after Prop 8 was repealed) officially issued, although Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed an emergency request for one.

The lawsuit against the state was brought by April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, who were driven to sue because without marriage, they can’t both adopt their children. The prospect of repealing the ban is a controversial one; the trial saw Michiganders traveling from across the state to protest outside the courthouse both in support of and in opposition to the same-sex marriage ban. The ban dates back to 2004, when voters passed a ballot measure restricting marriage to one man and one woman, and includes language that specifically includes civil unions. The ban was put on the ballot not by a legislator, by a successful petition by conservative citizens; 2.7 million people voted to pass the ban.

While same-sex marriage victories have been multiplying across the US, from Utah to Kentucky. Increasingly, we’re seeing at least some steps forward in states usually considered conservative, or ideologically committed to “traditional marriage.” While Michigan may not seem as unlikely a marriage equality success story as some states more widely understood to be conservative, its relationship to LGBT equality is more complicated than those outside the state may assume. Michigan voted Democratic in the year 2004, the same year that it passed the same-sex marriage ban; Kerry won the state by a 3.4% margin. More recently, it was arguably a swing state in 2012, but ultimately went for Obama with a margin of 9.5%. But while Democrats have managed wins in Michigan recently, that’s far from meaning that Michigan is a particularly liberal state, or that it’s necessarily socially progressive. In fact, the majority of counties in Michigan supported Romney in 2012:

Michigian_presidential_election_results_2012

Although it doesn’t always have the same anti-gay rap as states to the South, Michigan is a fairly consistently unwelcoming place for its LGBTQ residents. In 2011, the state attempted to pass a bill that would prohibit ordinances extending discrimination protections to LGBT people in 18 cities. It succeeded in passing a bill that retracted health benefits from the same-sex domestic partners of municipal employees. It’s still perfectly legal in Michigan to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/presentation. In 2012, LGBT community leaders of Michigan launched a 100-day hunger strike to draw attention to their treatment by their state government, calling Michigan an “extreme anti-equality environment.” David Garcia, executive director of Affirmations, said that “One could argue that Michigan is the Mississippi of the civil rights movement when it comes to gay equality. We are constantly behind on many issues, and many people don’t know it.”

As marriage victories have multiplied, they’ve been followed by increasingly vocal reminders that the LGBT community has other (and for many people, more critical) issues to contend with: disproportionate levels of poverty, substance abuse, incarceration, poor access to healthcare, and more. In Michigan, the contrast between the focus on marriage equality and issues of employment and economic discrimination is a telling one. Although polls indicate that support for same-sex marriage is higher than ever, Michigan raises the question of whether support for same-sex marriage is the same as support for the people in those marriages. While the repeal of the ban is excellent news, and will hopefully lead to many families like DeBoer and Rowse’s experiencing increased stability and security, it’s important to remember that marriage isn’t the whole battle; many LGBT people in Michigan still face imposing challenges, and the solutions for those aren’t necessarily in sight.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 736 articles for us.

21 Comments

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    Born and raised Michigander here, from one of the bright red areas on the map. Thank you not just for covering the good news, but also recapping our struggle over the last 10 years.

    I don’t think there is a lot of awareness surrounding it, even among many people in the state itself, who seem to choose willful ignorance.

    Though I left Michigan a while ago, our local LGBTQ community has been fighting really hard for very basic rights. They have given numerous personal testimonies that most of the time seem to fall on closed ears.

    This is a huge step forward for us, and hopefully it will lead to the adoption of anti-discrimination rights in the workplace and for housing as well.

    To learn more, or even help out, you can take a look at Until Love is Equal: http://untilloveisequal.com/ and Holland is Ready: http://hollandisready.org/

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    Yay my home and native land! I was so upset in 2004 when this ban passed BY A LANDSLIDE… I still remember my hear sinking when Jon Stewart read the numbers on The Daily Show. This is great. Now I just need to find a cabin up north by a river

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    Yay! As someone living in one of those red cities on the map, I know how difficult it is to be out in Michigan. Even though this victory is only a small step to creating a safer place to live, I’m still happy that I might be able to get married in my home state.

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    Don’t think my part of the map could get any redder, so this tastes especially sweet. Living in an area that still allows employment discrimination and housing discrimination and much more, I know this isn’t equality, yet I’ll take this victory and feel proud to celebrate.

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    I’ve been teary all day. I thought it would take years for this to happen. I always thought I’d have to move somewhere else to get married. I still can’t believe it. For once, I’m proud of my home state.

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    Like others above, Michigan is my home state and I moved away years ago to make my home in a state that, well, didn’t appear to hate me as much as Michigan did. I am thrilled that Michigan finally made this step and I hope that it holds up. I know marriages are already happening this morning; some offices opened especially on a Saturday and are waiving the fee for same-day marriages. They were apparently told by the attorney governor not to issue any marriage licenses until the appeal process was over, but since he was unable to get an emergency stay, districts are going ahead and doing it anyway.

    Like someone else above, I also want to thank you for highlighting the ongoing struggle for queers in Michigan. I shared this article to facebook for my Michigan family members, who all think my wife and I leaving Michigan was in vain, because now they have marriage equality. That is only a piece of the puzzle. Michigan is one of those states where there is still a lot of fighting left to do. Today, it is happy news, wonderful, shocking, and overwhelming news… but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way, or that’s it going to improve in other areas for Michiganders quite yet. I just hope Michigan continues to do the right thing.

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    I grew up in one of the red Michigan spots as well, leaving for greener pastures (politically and economically). thank you for explaining that marriage is just one issue, and arguably not the largest one, the LGBT community is working on. And thanks to the people who had the network/strength/love/finances to stay in Michigan and fight. You’re making the world a better place. <3

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    I happy this happened, because I love The Mitten like whoa and I look forward to going home someday. Ever since the announcement I’ve been in some sort of no-man’s-land of emotion. It’s like, “Yay! We won a Thing!” Then it turns into “But damn, there’s still so much shit going on.”

    And this from someone who moved to Missouri (Well, St. Louis. But still).

    I’m super proud of the folks who helped make this possible, and I look forward to stories of happy queer marriages and *fingers-crossed* second parent/queer adoptions. Congrats, homeland. Keep on keeping on!

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    This comment feed made my heart really happy. Queer Michiganders! Queer Hollanders! We do exist! Like many others, I no longer am a Mitten resident, but my family still lives there. Good excuse to go ‘home’ and drink a tasty microbrew twice a year.

    True story- went on a first date on Friday, woke up next to her Saturday and said, “dating you is magic because sometime while we were out, Michigan repealed Prop 2.”

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