same sex marriage

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

There’s a new effort to protect the property rights of same-sex couples in Michigan.

Currently, Michigan law only allows a spouse to inherit property in the absence of a will.  Michigan's constitution prohibits same sex marriage.   

But Ingham County is now recognizing out-of-state marriage licenses or affidavits from gay couples.  The county’s Register of Deeds says including the documents will help protect the property rights of same-sex couples.  

The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to hear a challenge to the policy that allows live-in partners of state employees to be covered by their health coverage.

The court’s decision allows the policy to stand. 

The benefit was negotiated as part of most state employee contracts.

Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the benefit arguing that providing insurance for live-in partners violates the state’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Each week we discuss Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

Michigan’s new emergency manager law went into effect today, so we wanted to find out how the new law differs from the one voters overturned in the November 2012 election. And we discuss the legal challenges to the new law. Plus, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week centering on same-sex marriage. In Michigan in 2004, voters approved a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage and civil unions. There has been a legal challenge to that ban, but the judge overseeing the case chose to delay his decision until after the Supreme Court makes their ruling. 

Listen to the full interview above.

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.

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

A Native American tribe in northern Michigan has become one of the first in the nation to legalize same sex marriage.

The Tribal Chairman of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians signed a statute Friday to legalize same sex marriage. Just moments after Chairman Dexter McNamara gave the final swipe of his pen, he married two men from Boyne City.

Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Two men from Boyne City were the first same sex couple in Michigan to be legally married today.

This came minutes after the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians signed a statute to legalize gay marriage within the tribe.

Here's an on-air report I filed with sounds from the ceremony:

The Odawa tribe is the first tribe in Michigan and one of only three in the nation to legalize same sex marriage.

Denise Petoskey with the Odawa Tribe proposed the same sex marriage statute to the tribe last year.

“I’m just really excited and proud to be Odawa and I think it’s amazing and I hope other people take our lead,” said Petosky.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Governor Snyder expected to appoint an EM for Detroit today

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to announce his pick for Detroit's emergency manager today. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"Snyder is widely expected to name high-powered Washington, D.C., lawyer Kevyn Orr, 54, who worked in a number of federal government roles and had a hand in Chrysler’s bankruptcy turnaround."

Commission will study human trafficking

"A commission will spend six months studying the problem of human trafficking and child prostitution in Michigan. The task force will then deliver a set of recommendations on new laws and ways to connect victims of human trafficking with help. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette convened the task force," Rick Pluta reports.

Odawa tribe to allow same-sex marriage

"The chairman of a northern Michigan Indian tribe says he'll sign a same-sex marriage bill Friday, then preside at the wedding of two men. The legislative body of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians voted 5-4 on March 3 to amend the Harbor Springs-based tribe's laws to allow same-sex marriages," the Associated Press reports.

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
Matthileo / flickr

Each Saturday, Rina Miller and Jack Lessenberry look at some of the top regional news stories of the week.

Carl Levin won't run for re-election

We got a political bombshell this week when U.S. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said he won't run for re-election next year. But Lessenberry says this wasn't entirely unexpected. He expects a lot of people to run for Levin's seat including Congressman Gary Peters and Congressman Mike Rodgers.

Detroit prepares for an emergency manager

The Detroit City Council says "not so fast" when it comes to the governor’s appointment of an emergency manager. Mayor Bing says it's too late to resist the appointment. It's just going to happen. Lessenberry says the City Council may well appeal, but he doesn't expect the Governor to reverse his decision. "They are doing a pro-forma thing mainly for political consumption."

A challenge to Michigan's same-sex marriage ban

The discussion of same-sex marriage in Michigan was put on hold after it looked like a federal judge might make a ruling on Michigan’s constitutional amendment. Lessenberry says "no one can really fault U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman for doing this because the U.S. Supreme Court is going to rule on a case in California on a similar law."  He says that way Friedman can craft a ruling that isn't in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. He joins us Saturday mornings to review the week’s top news stories.

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

This morning, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman heard arguments for and against Michigan's 2004 constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions.

There was some speculation that Judge Friedman could rule on the case today.

Instead he decided to wait before issuing his decision.

He said he wanted to wait to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on two cases dealing with same-sex marriage. Those cases are set to be heard later this month.

MPRN's Rick Pluta was at the hearing this morning and live tweeted the hearing.

Michigan Court of Appeals
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons

A divided Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld extending health benefits to the live-in partners of state employees.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the state Civil Service Commission agreement with public employee unions.

Among other things, the attorney general says the policy violates Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

But the court’s majority said the policy makes no distinction between people in same-sex relationships and heterosexual live-in partners.        

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.

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.

The Guardian

The rights of gay and lesbian Americans leaped into the national spotlight again after President Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage. He made the announcement a day after North Carolinians voted to become the 30th state in the U.S. to place a ban on same-sex marriage.

Michigan voters banned same-sex marriages in 2004.

Some states have done the opposite. They've passed laws expressly allowing same sex marriages.

And then there are laws on adoption. Some states allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly. Other states have banned the practice.

Laws restricting and protecting gay Americans vary widely from state to state. There are laws regarding hospital visitation, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, and harassment in schools.

The national picture on gay and lesbian legal rights and restrictions is jumbled and difficult to explain.

But a unique form of journalism - data visualization journalism - can help bring light to the overall picture.

That's just what The Guardian has done with U.S. state laws that address gay and lesbian issues.

In one look, you can see which states have adopted laws protecting the rights of gays and lesbians, and which states have passed laws restricting their rights.

The Guardian's color wheel shows that in the Midwest, Iowa stands out legislatively as a "gay friendly" state, while states like Michigan would decidedly not be seen that way.

Michigan, Mississippi, and Utah are the only states that expressly ban same-sex marriages and joint adoption by same-sex couples.

Take a look at their color wheel and let us know what you think of it.

HT to GG

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

Late last year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a controversial law barring many live-in partners of state employees from receiving government health benefits. Snyder and some members of the state legislature cited cost as the primary reason behind the ban. But critics of the law, including the ACLU of Michigan, said the law unfairly targeted same-sex couples.

Now, just south of the border, things might be moving in the opposite direction.

According to a story in the Toledo Blade, the city's Mayor Mike Bell is planning to bring legislation concerning domestic partner benefits before the city council. The measure would give Toledo city employees the opportunity to extend their health care benefits to cover their live-in partners, provided couples sign up for the city's Domestic Partner Registry.

More from the Blade:

Both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be eligible for benefits under the proposed law...

"What we're trying to do is bring our city, form the standpoint of human resources and affirmative-action policies, in line with what's happening nationally," Mayor Bell said. "We're not the first train pulling out of the station here, we're actually in a way trying to catch up with the policies that make companies and cities competitive in the state of Ohio."

Other cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, along with Lucas County, the University of Toledo, Owens Corning, and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, offer benefits to domestic partners of employees, according to information provided by the mayor's office.

But, the Blade reports, some council members are already voicing misgivings about the policy:

George Sarantou said he has many questions about the proposed law and is concerned it could be too costly for a city that has struggled financially in recent years.

"Cost is always a factor when you're dealing with a budget," Councilman Sarantou said...

Councilman Rob Ludeman, meanwhile, expressed both financial and moral concerns about the proposed law. During his last term, Mr. Ludeman was one of two councilmen who voted against the Domestic Partner Registry.

"A lot of it was my own religious beliefs, but I think I represented a conservative constituency who were opposed to it, gay and straight people," Mr. Ludeman said.

Mayor Bell told the Blade that he doesn't believe the benefits will present any financial strain and said it comes down to fairness:

"When you're the mayor, you represent everybody," the mayor said. "Inside the city we have a lot of different lifestyles. All I'm trying to do is be fair to everybody. ... I'm trying to adjust our polices to the obvious that's in front of us right now at this particular time in history."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. (AP) - The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians' tribal council is considering a constitutional amendment that would recognize same-sex marriages.

The Petoskey News-Review and WPBN-TV report the American Indian tribe would be the first in Michigan and among a few nationwide to legalize gay marriages if the amendment is adopted.

Most of the about 4,000 people in the tribe live in Michigan's northern Lower Peninsula. If the measure is approved, at least one of partner would have to be a member of the tribe. The idea was initially encouraged by two tribal citizens in a letter to the tribal council urging consideration of an amendment.

The proposal currently is in a public comment period. The current tribal constitution defines marriage as between "one man and one woman."

A court has thrown out a lawsuit by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette wanted to block a new policy that allows unmarried state workers to put live-in partners on their insurance plans.

The attorney general went to court after attempts by Governor Rick Snyder and Republicans in the Legislature failed to halt the new benefits for unmarried live-in partners  - which includes people in same-sex relationships.

The independent state Civil Service Commission earlier this year approved contracts with state employees that allow live-in partner benefits. The court said the commission acted within the scope of its authority when it approved the contracts. But it’s not settled that state employees will be able to continue to list domestic partners and their children as dependents on their benefits plan. The attorney general could appeal the court ruling.

A state Senate committee has also approved legislation that would ban public employers - such as the state, school districts and universities - from offering contracts that allow unmarried partner benefits.

The state Supreme Court has refused to take the case of a lesbian woman who wants the right to visit the children she helped raise with her ex-partner.

The court’s decision lets stand a lower court ruling that same-sex partners do not have custody rights in Michigan.

Renee Harmon and Tammy Davis were together for 19 years, and during that time started a family together. Davis served as the biological mother via artificial insemination to their three children. After the relationship broke up, Harmon was denied visitation and sued for parenting time.

Michigan does not recognize same-sex relationships - nor does it allow unmarried couples to adopt.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Harmon lacked the legal standing to sue.

The state Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand by refusing to take the case.

The court divided on party lines in its decision. Republican majority voted not to take the case. Democrats said the court should.

In her dissent to the order, Justice Marilyn Kelly wrote the case raises so many questions regarding the state constitution and parents’ rights that it “cries out for a ruling from the state’s highest court.”


Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed New York's gay marriage bill, starting what is expected to be a crush of gay weddings beginning in 30 days.

 State House Republican leaders failed to muster enough votes to reverse health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees. The new policy will treat unmarried employees with live-in partners the same as married employees, and it will apply to people in same-sex relationships. A two-thirds majority vote isrequired to reverse  the contracts approved by the state Civil Service Commission.

GOP lawmakers said the Civil Service Commission decision undermines “traditional families” and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan.

House Speaker Jase Bolger says he is looking for other avenues to block the new policy from taking effect October first.

"I’m going to continue to explore the legality of their decision. I believe they made an end run around the constitution. I’m not an attorney, but I’m going to consult with attorneys to see if something can be done about their illegal decision,” Bolger said.

Democrats say the Legislature should not rescind agreements collectively bargained with state employee unions.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette has also been asked for an opinion on whether state employee live-in partner benefits violates Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban.

Cedar Bend Drive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate has voted by a super-majority to reverse a state Civil Service Commission decision that would allow unmarried state employees to claim domestic partners on their health insurance.

Earlier this year, a state employment panel approved unmarried partner benefits that would include people in same-sex relationships and their dependents.

Republican state Senator Mark Jansen says the state can’t afford it – and voters have already spoken about domestic partner benefits by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.

“This is about economics. This is about our budget. This is about getting Michigan back on track."

But, Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren says rejecting domestic partner benefits would hurt children.

“Families are always stronger when health insurance is accessible to everyone in the household.”

The measure now goes to the state House, where Republicans will have to muster a two-thirds majority vote to reverse the policy. Otherwise, state employees will be able to claim unmarried partners on their benefits starting October first.

Governor Rick Snyder has asked the Legislature to reverse an employment panel’s decision to allow un-married state workers to claim their live-in partners on their benefits.  

The governor’s letter gives the Legislature 60 days to overturn the state Civil Service Commission’s decision. Reversing the independent Civil Service Commission will require two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate. Both are controlled by Republicans, but getting to the necessary super-majorities is not guaranteed.  

Gregory Roberts

Most state employees will be allowed to carry their live-in partners on their health insurance benefits starting October first.

The state Civil Service Commission has approved domestic partner benefit agreements with two public employee unions and non-unionized state workers.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration objected to the Civil Service Commission’s adoption of the policy because of the added cost.

The agreements were worked out between state employee unions and Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration before she left office. The new rules will cover 70% of all state employees, although just a small fraction are expected to file the affidavit for unmarried partner benefits.

Unmarried partners who’ve lived with a state employee for a year or more and their dependents will be eligible.

The rules apply equally to same-sex partners and male-female couples. Courts have ruled that is the only way public employers such as universities, cities or the state can offer benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees without running afoul of Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Update 11:43 a.m.:

The state Civil Service Commission has approved agreements to allow state employees to put their live-in partners on their insurance plans, Rick Pluta reports.

The commission's action ratifies agreements that were worked out between Governor Jennifer Granholm's administration with two state employee unions and state workers who are not part of a union. The commission acted over the objections of Governor Rick Snyder's administration.

8:20 a.m.:

It’s expected that The Michigan Civil Service Commission will take up a measure today that would extend health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of state employees, The Detroit News reports. As the News explains:

An attempt to push through the change in the waning days of the Granholm administration failed when the commission tabled the issue in December. Now, the new administration of Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to tell the commission today the state can't afford the change — expected to cost close to $6 million a year…

The four-member commission is split on the issue, as are unions for state employees who are bracing for anticipated fights on wage and benefit issues viewed as higher priorities. Employee benefits for same-sex partners were negotiated in 2004, shortly before Michigan voters passed a ballot initiative that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Unmarried state workers will have to wait to see if incoming governor Rick Snyder's administration will consider extending health care benefits to their live-in partners.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta just filed this report:

The state Civil Service Commission has delayed a vote on extending health benefits to the live-in partners of state employees. The commission was poised to make a decision, but the Granholm administration proposal had too many unanswered questions -- including whether state employees would be able to claim multiple domestic partners on their benefit plans. The delay likely kicks the decision into next year, when Governor Granholm will be gone and Governor-elect Rick Snyder will have the job. Snyder's spokesman says he has not taken a position on partner benefits for state workers.