Sneakiness wins in Michigan court

By Deb Price

May 11, 2008 4 min read

When Michigan voters headed to the polls in 2004 to decide the fate of a proposed amendment to the state constitution, they'd been told the following by its lead proponent:

"(This) has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman," said Marlene Elwell, campaign director of Citizens for the Protection of Marriage.

CPM's Website declared the group's purpose was "for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Period."

And its brochure told voters: "This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their life."

That sales pitch — assuring voters that the ballot initiative was solely about limiting marriage to heterosexual couples — reflected where voters stood: A poll by Lake Snell Perry found 70 percent of likely Michigan voters opposed banning domestic partnerships and civil unions, and two-thirds opposed banning public universities and cities from offering partner benefits.

However, Proposal 2 also included language about not recognizing a "similar union for any purpose." After getting it passed, CPM turned around and argued the "marriage" amendment bans public employers from offering partner health benefits.

Sneaky? Yep. Deceptive? Yep.

And yet the Michigan Supreme Court outrageously ruled the amendment does bar such health benefits.

Two justices dissented from that May 7 ruling, saying the five-justice majority read too much into the amendment. The dissenters, citing CPM's bait-and-switch tactics, issued a warning that should be heard nationwide: "(T)he majority condones and even encourages the use of misleading tactics in ballot campaigns. ... (I)n the future, organizations may be encouraged to use lies and deception to win over voters or the court. This should be a discomforting thought for us all."


Since the anti-gay industry started trying to whip up folks about the supposed dangers posed by gay folks like me — I'm blessed to be in a 23-year relationship with a woman I married the first chance I got in Canada in 2003 — seven states have added marriage-only bans to their constitutions and 19 others have passed "marriage-plus" wording.

More fights are ahead: Florida votes this fall on a "marriage-plus" amendment. California voters likely will be asked whether to ban gay marriage. And Oregon voters may be asked whether to get rid of the new domestic partnership law.

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is working with public employers to creatively redesign benefit programs so gay couples and their kids don't lose health insurance.

But the threats posed by this ruling remain very real: Even before the top court handed down that decision, a Michigan judge cited Proposal 2 in telling a lesbian in a custody fight over three children she legally adopted in Illinois with her ex-partner that she has no enforceable parenting rights in the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court's ruling is a damaging blow to the economically shaky state, not just gay couples.

Already, Lambda Legal, which recently created a "Safety Scale" of states as guidance for convention planners as well as gay couples planning to travel or relocate, put Michigan, once a leader on gay rights, in the worst class.

For those of us who care about Michigan, the damage this court ruling does to the state's reputation is, to put it mildly, discomforting.

Deb Price of The Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues. To find out more about Deb Price and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

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