The Quixotic Pastor

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Why Amending A Constitution Is A Big Deal

Yesterday morning, I got up bright and early after a night of next to no sleep to drive down to the Capitol of the Land of God's Left Hand to sit through a portion of a hearing before the state Supreme Court.

Faithful readers, all four or five of you, may wonder why I did this.

The short story is that I went to "pray in place" that justice be done for God's LGBTQetc. children. I went to flash a clerical collar to show that many Christians believe that "Marriage is Love".

Here's the long story ...

Back in '04, voters in the Land of God's Left Hand approved an amendment to the state constitution that had the following wording: "To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, 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 voters, BTW, as Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. pointed out during the hearing, did not see this actual wording on the ballot when they voted 59% to 41% to amend the state constitution in this manner.]

When the amendment was actually on the table, opponents of the amendment challenged proponents of the amendment, saying, "What does 'similar union for any purpose mean?' Looks like you folks are going after domestic partner benefits that many public and private sector companies in our state offer. If this amendment passes, several people will lose benefits like health insurance for themselves and their children, family leave and so forth."

Proponents of the amendment responded, "We're not interested in removing anyone's health benefits --we just want to protect the institution of marriage." Said proponents included people like the Michigan Catholic Conference [which contributed $500,000 to the effort to ban same-sex marriage], Citizens For The Protection of Marriage and the American Family Association of Michigan. Here's a link to a background article from the Oakland Press. Here's a link to an article where "Marlene Elwell, chair of the Citizens for Protection of Marriage, an advocacy group in favor the amendment, calls accusations of lost benefits “absolutely not true” and downplays their impact, saying the amendment will not affect private business."

Well, after the amendment passed, guess what happened?

Upon recommendation of the State AG, the governor almost immediately removed same sex domestic partner benefits from contracts with state employees because the amendment was worded in such a way as to appear to void those benefits. She did so under protest, because she disagreed with the AG's interpretation of the amendment's impact upon DP benefits.
Folks from the city of Kalamazoo solicited an opinion from the states Attorney General, Mike Cox, who basically stated that the amended constitution "prohibits state and local governmental entities from conferring benefits on their employees on the basis of a "domestic partnership" agreement that is characterized by reference to the attributes of a marriage." See this link.
At that point, 25 same-sex couples ["Pride At Work"] filed suit against the State of Michigan in order to retain their benefits. In the initial court hearing before Judge Joyce Draganchuk, she ruled that same-sex domestic partner benefits were benefits of employment, not marriage. The state AG promptly appealled, and Draganchuk's ruling was overturned by the 3 member Michigan Court of Appeals. Their ruling has been appealed now to the state supreme court.

Which brings us to how I spent my Tuesday morning.

The "Pride at Work" side argued that offering SSDP Benefits does not constitute "recognition" of a relationship by a state entity, but is rather only terms of employment. Employment benefits are more dissimilar to the rights and privileges of marriage than similar. SSDP Benefits do not constitute "a similar union for any purpose" nor do they constitute a "recognition" of a same-sex union. This side also pointed out that the voters were misled as to the intent of the amendment as well as the consequences of its wording, that the voters did not have a adequate understanding of the word "recognition" or the phrase "similar union for any purpose."

The other side [boo! hiss! Yes, OF COURSE I am biased!] argued that the wording of the amendment and hence, its meaning, was clear and plain to the voter. SSDP Benefits are a "marriage-like" first step in legitimizing gay unions and, if these benefits are offered to gay couples, it will not be long before other "marriage-like" benefits will be offered, thus eroding the special place and status the institution of marriage holds in our society. Since the clear intent of the amendment is to "secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society," SSDP Benefits should not be offered by the state, because they are a "marriage-like" agreement, not merely a contractual agreement between employer/employee.

The Supreme Court will likely not rule on this case until Spring 2008.

In the meantime, it would be nice if the LGBTQetc community in the Land of God's Left Hand could begin an effort to repeal this amendment. OTOH, we LGBTQetc folk have a lot more to worry about than this, such as the state's economy, the war in Iraq, the continued bullying of kids in school who are LGBT or perceived to be, continued employment discrimination against LGBTQetc people, the plight of aging LGBTQetc persons, and intracommunity struggles with racism, classism, sexism, ageism.

And I have a sermon to write, and some church bookkeeping to help straighten out.


  • At 8:09 AM , Blogger LutheranChik said...

    Thank you for representing at the Capitol, and for passing along this information. We usually don't get real partisan on our mailing list missives, but this is worth educating our friends about.


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