When Rick Johnson became Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, I was a little dubious.
He was a dairy farmer who had only gone as far as high school, and I worried what this might mean for
But as it turned out, while he was Republican to the core, he was generally a reasonable, open-minded man. Not, however, on the issue of same-sex marriage, which he opposed.
That was 10 years ago, and he wasn’t alone. A large majority of Michiganders who went to the polls that year voted to amend the state constitution to outlaw same sex marriage forever.
But forever didn’t last. Across America this year, judge after judge has overturned state prohibitions against same-sex marriage.
That happened here in March, when U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled our amendment violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Now, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati has scheduled oral arguments in four such cases on Aug. 6 in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Eventually, legal scholars think some combination of such cases will be “bundled” and sent to the U.S. Supreme Court. It has become customary in cases with a wider societal meaning for people to file what are called “amicus” or “friend of the court” briefs supporting one side or another.
I suspect amicus briefs have little influence over the judges who actually decide such cases, but are often
sort of Martin Luther-like “Here I stand” public declarations on the part of those signing them.
Two days ago, former Speaker Johnson and 19 other Republicans signed an amicus brief in the same-sex marriage case.
But the brief didn’t say what you might think. It urged the court to uphold striking down Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban. Later Johnson was interviewed about this.
Amazingly, he said he had been wrong before, that it was time to stop worrying about who marries whom. He told the Gongwer News Service that he thinks it is time for us to turn our attention to stopping wars and make sure the planet can feed itself.
Three other former Republican legislators who had voted against gay marriage in 2004 joined Johnson in signing the brief and saying they were wrong; 53 businesses, from Starbucks to Marriott, did the same. They recognize that society has changed.
There’s some pragmatism here, too. Johnson said that if Republicans change their attitude on this issue, it gives them a chance to appeal to more voters and, “expand their tent.”
Not everybody feels this way. Dave Agema, who represents Michigan on the Republican National Committee, seems to have an obsessive hatred of gay people.
Yesterday, he snorted that the Republicans supporting marriage equality were “politically correct hacks” who were probably getting paid to say what they did.
However, Agema long ago became mostly irrelevant. What will be interesting, however, will be to see if Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette continues to be as stridently anti same-sex marriage as he was during the trial. Times and positions change.
There was a day when Republicans were against Social Security and later, Medicare and Medicaid.
Sooner or later, most trains leave the platform. At some point, everyone has to decide which side they are on.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.