Jacques: Gay marriage finds odd bedfellow in Jen Gratz

Ingrid Jacques

When Jennifer Gratz recently posted a photo of her family on Facebook, congratulating her parents on their anniversary, she didn't expect the ugly turn comments on the photo would take.

Gratz, who has devoted much of her life to ending racial preferences at universities and spearheaded Michigan's 2006 affirmative action ban, is used to getting heat for her beliefs from the left.

But as of late, those criticisms have spilled over to those from the right, too. In this instance, a woman decided to take an inappropriate opportunity to chastise Gratz for her support for ending Michigan's constitutional ban of gay marriage. In a surprising decision Thursday, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling from March that had struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban. Bans in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee were also upheld. This decision, which goes against many other rulings, will likely push the cases to the Supreme Court.

"I am supportive of the government not being in the marriage business at all and allowing churches and other entities to determine whom they are willing to marry," Gratz wrote in response to the negative Facebook post.

Even though Gratz, who started the XIV Foundation to promote equal opportunity through the end of affirmative action, is a conservative darling, some Republicans have been taken aback by her stand for marriage equality.

Yet she's the perfect person to make this case. Gratz firmly believes that the government should treat all people equally under the law — that's why she is so opposed to affirmative action and why she sued the University of Michigan when her admission's application was denied. She won that case in 2003 before the Supreme Court. Similarly, Michigan's affirmative action ban was upheld earlier this year by the court.

Her cause of ending affirmative action and her support of gay marriage are also linked by the federal judge who made decisions dealing with both Michigan issues. U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman, struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban in March, saying it violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. That's the same reasoning he used in 2001 to overturn the University of Michigan Law School's use of race in admissions.

In June, Gratz, along with two dozen other influential Michigan Republicans, filed an amicus brief supporting his decision. Michigan's gay marriage case went before the Appeals Court, after Attorney General Bill Schuette appealed.

Greg McNeilly, president of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund and former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, signed the amicus brief along with Gratz. For him, the case is also personal. McNeilly is gay, and he married his partner in March shortly after the ban was struck down.

But he also says it's just bad policy for the government to interfere with matters of the heart. McNeilly believes the conservative principles of limited government and equal treatment align with ending gay marriage bans — laws which "treat people unequally" by withholding from gay couples the same benefits and protections of a marriage license. As McNeilly says, the government should not be in the business of enforcing values — whether those on the right or left.

From a conservative perspective, Gratz's defense of the voter-approved constitutional amendment barring affirmative action may seem at odds with her support of striking down the voter-approved amendment banning gay marriage. But given her passion for upholding the 14th Amendment, it makes sense.

"Throughout my entire adult life, I have stood for our government treating people as individuals," Gratz says.

Ingrid Jacques is deputy editorial page editor of The Detroit News.