Bills would require clergy to sign off on marriages

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

In anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, some Michigan lawmakers have proposed a set of bills that could road-block same-sex couples seeking to marry.

This week, state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, introduced three House bills that would end government involvement in performing weddings and require that all marriage certificates be signed by a religious leader.

“These bills take our public officials on all levels out of the equation and frees them from sanctioning marriages that go against their beliefs,” Courser said in a statement Friday. “I stand wholeheartedly and unequivocally for traditional marriage, and feel the definition of marriage should not be within the realm of the federal government.”

“The contract that has been in place for thousands of years is between a man and his wife on one side and God on the other side,” he added.

Under House Bills 4731, 4732 and 4733 the government would remain responsible for issuing marriage licenses, but municipal and judicial officials would not be able to perform wedding ceremonies.

The bills were referred to the House Committee on Government Operations.

The bills are a clever way for same-sex marriage opponents to challenge the issue, said Ashlyn Kuersten, a constitutional law expert at Western Michigan University. She said she expects the U.S. Supreme Court this month to rule that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Michigan is one of 13 states that ban same-sex marriage.

“For Michigan to fiddle with the details is clever,” she said. “I guess it’s not surprising that Michigan would do it.”

Kuersten said while there are lesser known religious sects that condone same-sex marriage, under the proposed legislation “it would be much more challenging for same-sex couples to marry in the state of Michigan.”

This issue could particularly affect same-sex couples who live in rural settings with fewer clergy, she said.

Bill Green, interim director of Equality Michigan, called the bills “just another example of an attack on the LGBT community.”

“I am expecting more things like this to come out from certain members of the legislature if a favorable ruling on same-sex marriage occurs before the end of the month,” he added.

Green said his organization and its victim service department is prepared to handle issues of discrimination following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The question that everyone has to ask themselves is why are we seeing all these marriage bills all of a sudden?” he said. “The answer is it’s very obviously an attempt to marginalize a potential same-sex marriage constitutionality by the Supreme Court.”

State Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, said the bills are designed to protect citizen and clergy religious convictions should the U.S. Supreme Court lift the ban.

“We’re going to be one of those states that are going to be affected by this,” she said. “This gives us the opportunity to look into that, ways to look at getting the bill stronger. It has to start somewhere.”

Courser is also drafting legislation he calls the Pastors’ Protection Act, which will ensure that religious leaders will not be forced to perform marriages that go against their beliefs.

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