Gay and abortion rights laws at issue in Michigan

Debate over gay and abortion rights has been percolating in the Michigan Legislature and courts for years. Here are some key issues and legislation that have framed the debate:

Gay marriage ban: In November 2004, state voters approved a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. The ban will remain in effect unless voters choose to undo the ban in the Constitution, or the ban is ruled unconstitutional. Federal judges have struck down gay-marriage bans in a number of states, and a federal judge is currently holding a trial in downtown Detroit on its constitutionality in a lawsuit brought by two female Oakland County nurses. Gay rights advocates say that they are prepared to move forward with a petition drive seeking to amend the Constitution in 2016 should the court not rule in their favor.

Domestic partner benefits: Public Act 297 of 2011 prohibits most public employers (schools, cities, etc.) from offering domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. Since gay and lesbian marriages are banned, the law effectively prevents an Michigan employee's same-sex partner from receiving health coverage as part of his or her benefits. The benefits law doesn't apply to universities because they are overseen by autonomous boards.

Last June, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law while a court challenge is heard. On Feb. 14, lawyers for Gov. Rick Snyder filed a motion asking the judge to uphold the benefits ban, which Snyder said eliminates irrational and unfair programs and is financially sound. No hearing date has been set.

Same-sex couple adoption: Michigan's adoption law only allows for joint adoptions or second-parent adoptions (someone adopting a partner’s child) by married couples. Gays can adopt individually, but their partner generally lacks legal standing as a parent. This can be an especially significant problem when the legal parent (biological or adoptive) dies or the couple separates, and the partner has no custody rights. Supporters of Michigan’s current law say children are best served in homes with a father and mother.

The prohibition on gay adoption is also being challenged in the court case brought by the Oakland County nurses, who are in a longstanding relationship and individually adopted three special needs children (one child by one partner, two by the other). They sued for the right to adopt each other's children. On the judge’s recommendation, the couple expanded the suit to challenge the constitutional ban on gay marriage. A trial on these issues is playing out this week in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Employment and housing protection: Under Michigan law, individuals can be fired or denied housing because they are gay. That's because sexual orientation is not protected by the state's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which currently bans discrimination on the basis of race, gender and other classifications.

Legislation has been proposed (for instance by state Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor in 2012) to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, but supporters have so far been unable to prevail. Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger has said he would like to find a way to address the issue but is struggling to find the balance between the rights of the gay and lesbian communities and religious rights. The ACLU of Michigan has been working with Bolger as well as some state businesses to find a solution.

It is not yet clear what impact the recent controversy in Arizona will have on the debate in Michigan. Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed legislation that would have given businesses the right to effectively refuse service to gays and others based on religious objections. The bill’s demise was notable for the near-universal opposition to the legislation mounted by mainstream Republicans and the business community in Arizona, and through much of the nation.

Meanwhile, about 30 Michigan cities and townships have approved local ordinances barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Abortion insurance rider: The Michigan Legislature last year enacted legislation to bar insurance plans from covering most abortions, unless women or their employers buy a separate abortion rider. Women who did not separately purchase the rider wouldn't be covered even in cases of abortion and incest, which has caused some opponents to call it "rape insurance." Supporters of the new law say businesses and companies shouldn’t have to pay for a procedure they oppose. Governor Rick Snyder vetoed the measure initially, but supporters were able to get around that by collecting signatures for a citizens' initiative, which isn't subject to a veto. Public Act 182 of 2013 takes effect March 14.

Abortion regulations: House Bill 5711, the legislation that stirred the "Vaginagate" controversy, would among other things require many abortion providers to operate in more costly freestanding surgical facilities and prohibit the dispensing of abortion medication (abortion pills) through telemedicine. Supporters say the measure includes necessary regulations to protect women against substandard medical practices and to prevent coercion. Opponents say it is all part of a strategy to limit abortion and drive abortion providers out of much of the state. After Snyder signed the bill into law, he called the decision one of the most difficult he has made since taking office.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 03/06/2014 - 8:34am
While the gays get caught up in their feelings and emotions they seem to have lost touch with logic, reasoning, responsibilities. With the government getting into the act of gay marriages what will they do to protect the children? Will back ground checks be required? Will the sex offenders, child abusers, and those convicted of domestic violence be allowed to marry? Will the couple be required to be tested for diseases? There are many consequences by allowing society to go back to the dark ages of civilization.
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 9:48am
"...what will they [the government] do to protect the children?" I would imagine the same thing that the government does to protect the children of heterosexual couples. "There are many consequences by allowing society to go back to the dark ages of civilization." Are you insinuating that gay and lesbian couples are somehow from the dark ages of civilization? I personally know many gay and lesbian couples, and any one of those couples would be fantastic parents! I am, quite frankly, appalled at your "perspective". It seems as though you are insinuating that "the gays" are a devious group as a whole (sex offenders, child abusers, etc.). Have you looked at many of the heterosexual "parents" of today? Truly shocking, inept, and downright harmful to their children. I do not understand the perspective that "the gays" are somehow lesser people, more deviant and harmful, or from "the dark ages of civilization". However, I believe that your perspective certainly is.
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 11:20am
Wow, you can't really argue with ignorance like Gary's. That is a deep and profound stupidity.
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 11:36am
Are you talking about heterosexuals? They seem to be the perverts that abuse children. Did you have a background check and tested for diseases?it It is your logic that is dragging us back to the Dark Ages!
Thu, 03/06/2014 - 6:21pm
It is disappointing that the conversation all partisan and nothing about the issues. Using the 'marriage' as a case in point, there was no interest in couples that had issues related to the current 'marriage' status. I was all about one group wanting to have a 'marriage' for polical positioning an no regard for addressing issues for others. There was no interest in addressing the issue of second 'marriage' couples', the issues of families from previous 'marriages', the legal access for couples who have no interest in 'marriage', for individuals who have co-habitations. The whole bantering is about poitical power, the the public and those who would most benefit from expansion of the law be damned. Has anyone thought of what could have been achieved and how quickly it could have been achieved if the combatants had truly wanted to address current problems? From all I have heard no one considered anyone other then those that fit the political platform. Similarly, the insurance issue is pure politics. There have been special riders for insurance policies for generations. Insurance companies have develop a core or base policy and allowed people to customize it with riders for their situations and expected needs. If there was real concern for other than the politics the discussion would have been about what are the needs and how they could be addressed rather the poltical yeowls for headlines. The abortion issue is the same, employment and housing the same, and employment benefits. These issue have been turned into long standing poltical points of combat that subsidize the politcal issues professionals, giving them work and funding stability. Each of these issues could have been addressed years ago to the benefit of those at risk and the public as a whole. It is ludicous the self importance and the pedistal people bestow on themselves when the issues arises. These are the ones that show no care or consideration of others and simply below about their position.
Sun, 03/09/2014 - 11:03am
Interesting commentary on insurance riders. Given that the Rape insurance rider law takes effect in March 2014, I have contacted my insurance provider to request clarification about our coverage and for the cost of the rider I have to purchase to make sure the women in my family have insurance coverage if they are raped and that crime results in a pregnancy. I am sorry to say that what I have gotten back in absolutely nothing. In fact they seem to not even know that the law takes effect this month. I am appalled by the state's intrusion into private insurance contracts. But I am even more appalled at the mostly male MI legislature that is so arrogant and paternal that they deny the women of this state the right to vote on this law, created by 300,000 Michigan residents that imposes their will on the rest of the population. Their actions are not only chauvinistic they are degrading to women because the male legislature is in effect saying "Now you girls are not capable enough to make this important decision. The men in the legislature will make it for you. You women are far to emotional to be rational about this issue." These are the same people who see the requirement in the Affordable Care Act requires access to birth control as a complete overreach and unwelcome intrusion into private insurance. Really?
Sat, 03/15/2014 - 12:55pm
>>>Their actions are not only chauvinistic they are degrading to women because the male legislature is in effect saying “Now you girls are not capable enough to make this important decision. <<< To the contrary, the legislature is telling women to make the choice, that they will not make it for them. If you want insurance to cover abortion, then you must choose that coverage. No one else will choose it for you. You are the one wanting the legislature to take choice away from people. My wife and I are mid-40s, and are done with pregnancy and childbearing by choice. We also happen to be prolife, which means we choose not to have an abortion rider. Were the legislature to enact a law that requires it, they would be denying us the choice, saying in effect that we don't get to make that choice. If you want to be pro-choice, then be pro-choice. Let people choose what insurance coverage they want, and let them pay for it. Don't take their choice away by making that choice for them.
Thu, 04/30/2015 - 7:03am
Here is the problem with gay marriage or marriage in general, adoption by unmarried couples was proposed by the religious right and passed in certain states. Gay's who weren't married or couldn't married challenged the ban. However, now that gays and lesbians can marry, in places such as Virginia , those bans are still in place. Thus validating the discriminatory institution and social engineering of marriage. The government should not promote or demote marriage, it should be limited to contracts between two people or three people in cases where a man and a woman have a child and want to raise them together but one is gay or bi. This will solve issues like Heather Barwick who was opposed to gay marriage in particular lesbian marriage because she didn't have a father. Defenders of SSM can rightly point out that Heather's father choose to be absent and many children grow up fine without fathers or mothers in their life. However, be endorsing "marriage of two people", you exclude the legal protections that a biological parent can have if say two woman or two men want to raise a live as a family with another man or woman. Historically marriage was a license to be "legitimate" "not have bastard children" and since the right to privacy in matters such as consensual sex,contraception,etc was not endorsed until the latter 20th century, the only way to be "legitimate" was to marry and be free from discrimination and prosecution. It won't be easy to unravel the special interest code of marriage, but we can start by eliminating in through the tax code. Marriage has also be historically not necessarily about procreation as the right claims, but it has been a gendered institution. A husband was not entitled to his wife's SS death benefits but wive's were entitled to their husband's benefit. This was because the social security system was set up as husband being a main bread winner and leaving some protection for the wife who stayed at home and took care of children. While the gender aspect was struck down, the system still exists today via spousal benefits and also child benefits. Let me ask you, is it okay to fire someone because they are married or unmarried? Similarly is it fair to deny pell grants to a person because they are unmarried or charge them more in taxes? If my daughter who's independent wants financial aid, the FAFSA asks if she is under 24 and "unmarried". Is it fair that someone can automatically get SS benefits solely because they choose to marry someone? Of course live can never be completely fair, but like special interest tax codes and moral hazards, the current discriminatory system of marriage needs to go, in some cases marriage is a like a bureacratic nightmare, sometimes you'll pay more in taxes which doesn't bother some people, but its wrong. Certain states have been discrimination by martial status in terms of employment,insurance,credit,housing,etc. Should someone lose or gain health insurance solely because they are "married". Should we ban or restrict pre-nup agreements and make it difficult to divorce aka no fault, to make marriage stronger in the eyes of the government? Why should I be forced to testify against my son,daughter,mother,grandmother,father,etc but not my legal spouse. Since defenders of SSM don't like marriage of thee people, should Heather Barwick's father or mother be forced to testify against eachother since one is gay and not married to the other? Similary, you get to sponsor someone solely because of legal marriage. I understand that gays and lesbians feel left out by rights enjoyed by heterosexuals, they should not be discriminated against like what has happened, however the real solution is to "make the club less discriminatory against non-members". To say this is just nonsense not going to happen talk because of government marriage is not recognizing the fact that the unmarried are in the majority in America and many children already are born out of wedlock, conservatives of course ignoring the biblical command to neither demote or promote marriage, think the solution is to encourage marriage even in unhappy situations. Of course marriage need not go away, since that is an unrealistic goal in the near future, however we can start by limiting the priviledges and penalties of martial status and have a system of marriage that basically enforces via the courts mutual rights agreed to by both parties or three parties in the case of two parents and a gay partner, ie the mother or father is gay but the child wants a mother and father in their relationship.