gay rights

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A legislative committee could vote next week to let faith-based agencies in Michigan refuse to participate in adoptions that violate their beliefs, despite accusations that the legislation would permit discrimination.

Advocates say the bills would codify existing practice into law and preemptively protect adoption agencies from repercussions if Michigan legalizes gay marriage or civil unions.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Plan to expand mental health courts moves forward

"A plan to expand mental health courts in Michigan seems to be gaining momentum in the state Legislature. A state House panel unanimously approved the legislation Thursday. People with serious mental health issues can avoid jail time and have certain charges erased from public records if they participate in treatment programs," Jake Neher reports.

State Bar wants to end anonymous campaign donations

"The State Bar of Michigan says it’s time to end anonymous campaign spending in elections for judges and Supreme Court justices. It’s asking the state’s top elections official to require committees that pay for so-called “issue ads” to reveal their donors," Rick Pluta reports.

Another Michigan community has gay rights ordinance

A Flint area community has approved an ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the Associated Press, "The City Council in Linden voted this week to approve the ordinance covering employment, housing, public services and other areas."

There’s something fascinating about the period in which two cultures or technologies clash. Usually, it is clear after a few months or years which side is going to win. But there are always holdouts. Sometimes these struggles are intense, short and complete, as when the VHS format for videotapes defeated the Betamax technology back in the early 1980s. It took somewhat longer for DVDs to beat out videotapes, but it was again clear which would win.

Sometimes the old technology hangs on, at least with a small minority or a set of hobbyists. People still ride horses, and there is somewhat of a retro boomlet in vinyl records. Print is clearly giving way to online, but I suspect some dead tree publications will remain.

Interestingly, much the same sort of thing happens in terms of culture. There is little doubt that marijuana for recreational use will eventually be completely tolerated, if not legalized.

Those of us over 60 can remember when it was scandalous for a young couple to live together before marriage. Today, it’s widely seen as normal, outside some conservative religious circles.

But I don’t think I have ever seen a faster sea change in terms of cultural attitudes than in issues involving human sexuality.  Nearly one-fifth of all Michiganders now live in communities with ordinances protecting LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) citizens from housing or employment discrimination. Nearly all have done this in the last few years, and more are certain to follow before this year is out, according to a report in the Gongwer News Service yesterday.  

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The IRS says same-sex couples legally wed in a state that allows it will be recognized as married for federal tax purposes -- even if they reside in a state like Michigan that does not allow same-sex marriage.

It’s not clear yet how the state will deal with the ruling.

Gay rights leaders say the IRS decision is very good news.

Emily Dievendorf is the director of Equality Michigan.

“So, while the federal government is now helping to provide some equality in federal income tax credits and child tax credits, Michigan tax credits do not apply to same-sex couples and families,” said Dievendorf.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Possibly ending the city of Lansing’s sister city relationship with St. Petersburg, Russia will be the topic of a meeting tomorrow evening.

St. Petersburg recently passed an anti-gay ordinance and police there arrested people at an LGBT rally.

Some Lansing city council members say they want to send a message to St. Petersburg officials by canceling Lansing’s 2 decade old sister cities relationship with the Russian city.

State Capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Each week, Michigan Radio's political analyst Jack Lessenberry, and weekend host Rina Miller look back on the big news events in Michigan. You can listen to their discussion above. Below is a short summary.

Lawsuit over Taylor School District contract tossed out

Paul Sancya / Associated Press

A federal judge in Detroit has set an October 1 hearing date for a legal challenge to Michigan’s ban on gay marriage and adoptions by same-sex couples. April DeBoer says the ban violates the civil rights of the three children she and her partner are raising together.

Judge Bernard Friedman wants to hear how attorneys for the state and for the couple -- DeBoer and Jayne Rouse -- think the Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act affects this case.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman was appointed to the bench by President Reagan.

Bernard Friedman is the U.S. District Judge who today refused to throw out a case that challenged Michigan's ban on gay marriage.

Friedman was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be a federal judge for the Eastern District of Michigan in 1988 and he became the Chief Judge of the District in 2004. 

Now he has senior status, which a federal judge can opt for instead of retiring. A senior status judge only hears the cases that the Chief Judge assigns to him or her. 

Michigan's April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse were at the center of the Supreme Court case.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, United States District Judge Bernard Friedman wants a case challenging Michigan's adoption laws and the state's ban against same-sex marriage to go forward.

Today, Judge Friedman denied the state of Michigan's attempt to dismiss the case. He cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings in his decision.

From Friedman's ruling:

"Construing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, and in view of the Supreme Court’s current statement of the law, this Court cannot say that plaintiffs’ claims for relief are without plausibility. Plaintiffs are entitled to their day in court and they shall have it."

Friedman wants both sides in the case to appear in court on July 10. More from the Associated Press:

Friedman says he wants to discuss a trial date. He says last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision probably will be cited by the plaintiffs as well as state attorneys who are defending Michigan's 2004 ban on gay marriage.

After last week's U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the power for states to define marriage was left intact.

But gay rights advocates were emboldened to continue with their challenges to state laws barring gay marriage.

At a hearing on the case earlier this year, the two sides presented their arguments to Friedman.

The Detroit Free Press' Brian Dickerson wrote that Friedman "has been telegraphing his profound skepticism" about Michigan's gay marriage ban.

Three months ago, in an extraordinary hearing held in the auditorium of the Wayne State University Law School, Friedman repeatedly challenged two lawyers from state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to explain what rational government purpose was served by treating same-sex couples differently. When the lawyers responded that Michigan had a legitimate interest in promoting “responsible procreation,” Friedman seemed more amused than persuaded, noting that many opposite-sex couples marry with no intention of conceiving or adopting children.

With the U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and remanding California's Proposition 8 case back to the lower courts, Judge Friedman will have more precedent with which to make his judgment from.

In today's ruling, Friedman wrote about how he expects the Supreme Court rulings to be used in this case:

Defendants will no doubt cite to the relevant paragraphs of the majority opinion espousing the state’s “historic and essential authority to define the marital relation.”...They will couch the popular referendum that resulted in the passage of the MMA as “a proper exercise of [the state’s] sovereign authority within our federal system, all in the way that the Framers of the Constitution intended.”...

Friedman writes the plaintiffs, DeBoer and Rowse, will use the Supreme Court's ruling, along with other cases, to support their claims:

And why shouldn’t they? The Supreme Court has just invalidated a federal statute on equal protection grounds because it "place[d] same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage."...Moreover, and of particular importance to this case, the justices expressed concern that the natural consequence of such discriminatory legislation would not only lead to the relegation of same-sex relationships to a form of second-tier status, but impair the rights of “tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” as well...This is exactly the type of harm plaintiffs seek to remedy in this case.

*This post has been updated.

Courtesy of the ACLU

Governor Rick Snyder signed the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act into law in December of 2011.

It banned public employers from providing benefits to non-married domestic partners. Its intent was to keep gay and lesbian employees from providing benefits to their partners.

At the time, Gov. Snyder pointed out that the law didn't apply to state universities and some state workers. But it did apply to other public employees, including public school teachers.

A lawsuit, Basset et al v. Snyder, challenged the Act shortly after it went into effect.

Today, a federal judge released a preliminary injunction against that law, meaning that gay and lesbian public employees can't be denied health insurance anymore.

Aimee Hechler /

Update 4:30 p.m.

Earlier this month, Michigan Radio's Lester Graham spoke with Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez - a gay couple in Michigan and the parents of two-year-old Lucas. The two were legally married in Washington D.C. last December, but they live in Michigan - a state that doesn't recognize their union:

" is very difficult for us to be in a two-parent family and not have that recognized."

Wikimedia Commons

Michigan State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) could be opening the door to extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. That would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas such as employment and housing.

The state's civil rights act protects a variety of groups from discrimination. It includes protections for categories like race and age, but sexual orientation has yet to be included.

Love-Ramirez family

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

A demonstration took place this afternoon in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Detroit.

Protestors gathered at 12:30 p.m. today asking for the release of Michael Mendy, a gay Senegalese artist who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 15 years. Michigan Radio's Kate Wells went to the demonstration and will bring us an update.

She shot this video:

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - A group representing gay Catholics celebrated Mass at Marygrove College in the face of appeals from a conservative Christian group that the Archdiocese of Detroit block the plans.

Dignity Detroit held Mass on Sunday at the Roman Catholic-sponsored school.

Members of Dignity Detroit were met by roughly 30 protesters. A smaller group held signs in support of Dignity Detroit members.

American Family Association Michigan President Gary Glenn said Thursday that he has asked Archbishop Allen Vigneron to enforce Vatican policies on homosexuality and intervene.

The 1.3 million-member archdiocese has said church institutions are subject to Catholic beliefs.

Dignity Detroit, which regularly meets at Marygrove College, celebrated its 39th anniversary on Sunday. It has held previous Masses in the school chapel.

cncphotos / flickr

This week in Michigan politics, Jack Lessenberry and Christina Shockley discuss funding proposals to fix Michigan’s roads, the number of lottery winners on welfare, and how a human rights ordinance is moving forward in Royal Oak.

Royal Oak voters will decide whether to approve the city’s human rights ordinance in November.

That ordinance extends civil rights protections to some people not covered by state or federal law—including gays and lesbians.

A citizen group had gathered enough signatures to either force the commission to rescind the ordinance, or put it on the ballot.

Royal Oak resident David Sims says voters should have the final say on the law, which he calls “ridiculous.”

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder won't say whether a Michigan member of the Republican National Committee should resign for posting an article critical of gay people on Facebook.

The Republican governor told reporters Monday that he's "not going to get in the middle of all that." Snyder adds that discrimination of any kind is inappropriate and "it's important we stand up for all people."

If you were looking for a quintessential solidly middle-class Michigan suburb, Royal Oak, Michigan might be it. Its 57,000 people are mainly white and solidly middle-class.

The downtown became somewhat of a magnet for the young, and trendy a decade or so ago, and hip twenty-somethings still mingle there with motorcycle bikers and teenage skateboarders on warm summer evenings. But by and large, Royal Oak is average middle-sized suburban homes, built around the baby boom era.

Republicans in Michigan, at least some of them, are trying to reposition their  party vis a vis gay rights, and especially gay marriage. It’s one of the issues that has been killing Republicans among younger voters.

This week, Michigan Republican National Committeeman David Agema put that dilemma front and center with a post on his Facebook page. It was an old and pretty much discredited piece that outlines “facts” about homosexuality; like gay people are responsible for half the murders in large cities.

As a national committeeman from Michigan, Agema helps set the direction at the Republican National Committee. He was elected last year by a Republican state convention; swept in by a Tea Party insurgency. This Facebook post took the simmering conundrum facing Republicans and turned up the heat. The rest of the public is watching as Republicans try to resolve this question: Is it possible to simultaneously be against gay marriage and against discrimination that targets gay people?

Some Michigan Republicans are calling on Agema to resign. But Agema and his position certainly still have plenty of supporters in the Republican Party.

Blue Ocean Faith is an all-inclusive Christian community in Ann Arbor
user Marlith / Flickr

Some Michigan legislators have pushed bills calling for religious liberties to be honored through law. But one person’s religious liberty might be another person’s religious suppression.

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage is centered in people’s religious beliefs. The religion with the most followers in Michigan is the Catholic Church. It opposes same-sex marriage.

“Marriage from the Catholic perspective is between one man and one woman because that promotes the creation, the procreation of life,” explained Thomas Hickson, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Michigan Catholic Conference

It should be noted that a survey of Michigan voters last year found the majority of people who identified themselves as Catholic approved of same-sex civil unions or marriage. But that’s not the Church’s official position.

Recently the Catholic Conference announced its advocacy priorities for the current legislative session.  Among the religious liberties it intends to defend is a 2004 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. That amendment defines marriage as between one woman and one man. It also bans recognition of similar unions- in other words Michigan cannot grant any of the rights or privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. No adoption rights. No survivor’s benefits. No health insurance for public employees.

But, some other religious organizations view same-sex marriage differently and feel gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people should be treated equally under the law.

Blue Ocean Faith is an all-inclusive Christian community in Ann Arbor
user Marlith / Flickr

Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects many people from discrimination.  You cannot be fired from your job because of your religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, family status, or marital status. But you can be fired for being gay. 

Advocates for LGBT people ask why should gay people be singled out for who they are?

But gay rights opponents say this is not about who they are; this is about their behavior.

Gary Glenn is with American Family Association – Michigan.

“We don’t believe that, for example, a Christian bookstore should be forced to hire some guy who claims to be a woman and wants to wear a dress to work and use the women’s restroom. We don’t believe that a Catholic school ought to be forced to hire an openly homosexual man as a football coach, for example.”

Glenn says it would be an infringement of employers’ rights if Michigan were to amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT people.

Blue Ocean Faith is an all-inclusive Christian community in Ann Arbor
user Marlith / Flickr

We’d like to think all people are treated equally in America.

In fact, we think our system is set up to make sure that happens. There are, though, people who are not protected.

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

A new law in Royal Oak protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination has hit a bump in the road.

You’ve heard that a handful of cities in Michigan have anti-discrimination ordinances that say you can't fire or deny housing to someone just because they're gay.

And Royal Oak was about to join that club when their city commissioners okayed the new law.

But 200 people recently signed a petition to put that law on hold.

Now opponents of the ordinance need some 700 signatures by April to bring it up for a city-wide vote. 

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier / Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on two cases involving same sex marriage this year, bringing LGBT rights to the forefront of political discussion.

In Michigan, the Eliot-Larsen Civil Rights law doesn't protect members of the LGBT community.

This means that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals can be fired, denied housing, and turned away from restaurants and hotels based on their sexual identity.

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham spoke with Jay Kaplan with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Kaplan has been the staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan’s LGBT Project since its founding in 2001. He has fought against Michigan’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.

Listen to the full interview above.

Wikimedia Commons

Universities across the country are opening up campus housing to transgender students and it's happening right here in Michigan.

The University of Michigan housing has announced it will set aside a block of gender neutral rooms for transgender and gender non-conforming students in the fall of 2013, as a part of the gender inclusive living experience.

We speak with Amy Navvab, a student at the University of Michigan and Chair of the Open Housing Initiative, and Amanda Hobson, Residential Coordinator at Ohio University where gender neutral housing is already available to students.

Listen to the interview above.

(courtesy of KQED)

A Southeast Michigan teacher is back at work today  after the school suspended her for showing a pro-gay video in class.

The trouble started when Susan Johnson allowed a student to play the song “Same Love,” by the artist Mackelmore, in her South Lyon middle school class.

The student asked Johnson if he could play it, and Johnson says she inquired if there was any violence or profanity in the song. She gave him the okay when he told her it was clean. The song’s about supporting same-sex marriage, and includes the following lyrics:

A new poll shows a majority of Michiganders support gay marriage.

8 years ago, 59% of Michigan voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage and civil unions.

But Michigan State University researchers say a poll has found 56% of Michiganders are now in favor of gay marriage.    The poll of more than a thousand Michiganders turn place between mid-June and mid-August.

Charles Ballard is the director of the State of the State Survey.  He says there remains a core of people ‘Strongly Opposed’ to gay marriage.

Royal Oak City Commissioners unanimously approved a measure to start drafting a human rights ordinance Monday.

Such an ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics not covered under state or federal law. A number of Michigan cities have similar laws on the books.

Royal Oak voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed human rights ordinance in 2001.

But City Commissioner Jim Rasor is convinced public opinion on gay rights has shifted drastically since then.

DeBoer Rowse Adoption Legal Fund

A lesbian couple from the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park is using an ongoing lawsuit to challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are jointly raising three special-needs children, who initially came to them through the foster care system, since birth. They’ve already filed suit in federal court, challenging the state code that forbids unmarried couples from adopting.