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Michigan Democrats seek overturn of gay marriage ban

Gary Heinlein
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Eight House and Senate Democrats said Thursday they’ll seek to overturn Michigan’s ban on gay marriage through legal changes and a ballot proposition they want to ask voters to approve.

While passage of their plan seems like a stretch in a GOP-dominated Legislature, Democratic Rep. Jeremy Moss of Southfield said lawmakers “have a responsibility to clean up bad laws that are on the books in Michigan.

“A religious test shouldn’t be used to restrict (the) definition of marriage,” added Moss, who is gay.

Because voters’ attitudes have shifted in the decade since Michiganians approved the constitutional amendment dictating only marriages between men and women are allowed, Moss said, “It is time to get rid of our ban on same-sex marriage.”

Legislative Democrats said they want to make Michigan the 38th state to recognize same-sex marriages.

Their announcement comes two days before the one-year anniversary of the 2014 Saturday morning when four county clerks opened their offices and performed the marriages of 323 same-sex couples. It came a day after a Detroit federal judge declared Michigan’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed the decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments April 28 and rule in late June. Schuette’s attorneys have argued that voters should be allowed to make important issues at the ballot box, not “unelected judges.”

The centerpiece of Democrats’ effort is a legislative resolution that would lead to a statewide referendum asking voters to overturn the 2004 state constitutional amendment that was passed with a 59 percent majority. The amendment makes it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions.

To set up such a referendum, each legislative chamber would have to approve the Democrats’ resolution by a two-thirds majority — normally a tall order even for a majority party.

House Minority Floor Leader Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said a package of bills accompanying the resolution would be introduced in the Legislature on Thursday afternoon. The bills would revise state laws to provide married couples who are gay with the same legal rights and privileges as married heterosexuals, Democrats said.

Couples like Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar of Lansing, wed on that Saturday a year ago, were in limbo until Gov. Snyder decided this month not to appeal a federal injunction requiring the state to recognize marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples that day.

“We’re members of a small, exclusive club of same-sex couples who were able to marry during a brief window (of opportunity) on March 14, 2014, but we don’t want to be,” DeJong said Thursday. “We want to be members of an inclusive club that welcomes any same-sex couple who wishes to marry.”

Caspar said she and DeJong, who have been together 28 years, didn’t think they needed the formality of marriage to prove their commitment to each other. But with their marriage now legal, she said, they have been learning about rights and privileges that had been denied them — such as pension/survivor benefits.

“We now know that we needed marriage more than we expected,” Caspar said.

The couple plans to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their marriage on Sunday at a Lansing gathering that will involve other area same-sex couples who married that day. Celebrations are planned in each of the four counties — Ingham, Muskegon, Oakland and Washtenaw — where county clerks performed same-sex marriages a year ago.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com