Worldview embodied by Agema, Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban headed for history’s trash heap

The ravings on Dave Agema’s Facebook page only seek to justify discrimination, a losing proposition given the rapid shift in public attitudes in favor of gay rights.

For the continued licensing of that discrimination in this state, however, you only have to look to the Michigan Constitution and its creative statutory offshoots.

With a few exceptions, Republicans weren’t embarrassed by Agema because, a little more than a year ago, they were unanimously voting for the former House member's bills that defend a preferred version of Michigan culture shared by the social conservatives who remain the core of the party’s base.

And you can’t be too hard on the guy when you essentially voted to codify in law the sentiment he's now being criticized for broadcasting -- or when you actually sign it. That’s what Gov. Rick Snyder did 16 months ago with Agema’s HB 4770, which specifically prohibits extending employee benefit packages to the domestic partners of school district and local government workers.

Snyder, who chose to allow the state to get in the middle of local government employee relations, said recently he really didn’t want to get in the middle of the debate over whether Agema should retain his new position on the Republican National Committee.

He did reiterate that he was opposed to discrimination, even if Public Act 297 strips benefits from some employee households, but not others -- those with employees of universities. GOP legislators continue to insist that the benefits ban does cover universities, a point retained in 2014 higher education legislation.

What has to worry the few Republicans out there failing to isolate Agema as a fringe character (albeit one with a seat at the RNC) is that the controversy exposes a long thread of apparently hard to discard wedge-issue politics that is fast becoming out-of-step with voter attitudes and demographic change.

How times have changed since 2004

Back in 2004 it was a different story, as Republican donors helped secure ballot access and passage of Proposal 2, the constitutional amendment that defined marriage, or other “similar union,” as between one man and one woman. While it passed in every county save Ingham and Washtenaw, it didn’t deliver Michigan for George W. Bush, whose campaign believed it would draw ambivalent social conservatives to the polls. A similar ballot measure may have delivered Ohio, however, and that was enough.

Opponents at the time asked the Board of State Canvassers to adopt ballot language informing voters of the sweeping nature of the amendment. Proposal 2 backers said the Michigan Supreme Court would ultimately determine its parameters, obviously confident that a conservative majority would set broad ones.

So broad that it upheld an opinion by Attorney General Mike Cox that the term “similar union” did indeed bar arrangements through which the established gay partners of government employees could receive health insurance and other benefits. Cox this month said the amendment should now be repealed.

The response to the Supreme Court's ruling was a broader policy by municipalities, schools and universities to extend benefits to any long-term domestic partner, gay or straight. But a punitive Republican legislative majority took its collective thumb and pressed down.

Hence PA 297, which the ACLU of Michigan is contesting in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where a ruling is pending. The law limits employee benefits to married couples, dependent children and anyone else “eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession in this state.” That last category gives third cousins the right to taxpayer-funded health insurance in order to slam the door on providing it to partners who are, for all intents and purposes, spouses.

But there are bound to be casualties in defense of the Michigan Constitution, which polling suggests the public might now want to amend again.

Last November's survey by Michigan State University pollsters found 56 percent of those questioned now back gay marriage in Michigan, while 39 percent remain opposed.

So it is inevitable that voters will be asked to replace the 2004 amendment with one that legalizes same-sex marriage in Michigan.

If the ACLU and the employee plaintiffs it represents succeed in having Agema’s law ruled unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, and if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, thus possibly extending some of the federal benefits of marriage to Michigan couples married in, say, New York, there could be a movement to quickly channel that momentum toward a 2014 ballot effort.

More likely, though, is that the money required for a petition drive and fall campaign will focus attention on the 2016 presidential year, when the turnout will be larger and younger – and with fading opposition even more out of touch with public sentiment.

Constitutional amendments are rarely repealed. Proposal 2 of 2004, however, just might have the shelf life of a Facebook post.

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Mike R
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 12:22pm
Excellent analysis and expose', Mr. Luke. I was aware of the laws, of course (I voted against the Constitutional Amendment), but your editorial ties the chain of events together in a way that will be difficult to disavow by the conservative bigots now falling over themselves to deny complicity with Mr. Agema and create the appearance of catching up with the rest of society.
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 4:18pm
It's always interesting when something as transient and confused as public opinion over a handful of years in a deeply troubled society is seen as a good reason to radically change a five thousand year old institution that has seemingly served the human experience so well. What else shall we do?
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 8:43pm
Peter has already counted, cooked, and eaten the chickens...before they're hatched. In 2009, Democratic county commissioner and pollster Mark Grebner conducted a poll which he said he'd found to be the most accurate mechanism to predict voter behavior on a ballot measure: he provided each participant an actual sample ballot. His findings: 90 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents, and 49 percent of Democrats (!) in Michigan voted AGAINST repealing Michigan's one-man, one-woman Marriage Protection Amendment. (A 2004 Detroit Free Press poll found that two-thirds of union households and two-thirds of black voters supported the amendment.) In any future ballot contest on this issue, the campaign to keep our Marriage Protection Amendment in place will have the significant strategic advantage of the "NO" vote on the ballot question. In short, we dispute Peter's (and the rest of the media's) transparently agenda-driven declaration that Michigan voters no longer support the common sense traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. We look forward to renewing the battle to defend one-man, one-woman marriage on the ballot in 2014 or 2016 or beyond. That's the only poll that can change our state constitution, which we believe will be upheld instead.
Jean-Jacques Bu...
Wed, 04/24/2013 - 12:47am
Same-sex marriage is an injustice, a tyrannical ploy being perpetrated upon our society, the pernicious consequences of which are simply mocked and laughed at by its supporters. Ignorance and prejudice have taken the place of knowledge and reason. Caprice and passion substituted for prudence and virtue. The happiness of society, the good of all families, and the welfare of mankind fall victim to the injustice of selfish adult love, which calculates every thing for itself, while taking no notice of a child's best interest or the public advantage of a government promoting ONLY the traditional family unit. Same-sex marriage is antithetical to the Rule of Law, for the principle object of laws in general is to correct bad inclinations, to prevent vicious habits, to hinder their effects, and to eradicate the passions; or at least to contain them within proper limits. Same-sex marriage makes an implicit statement that mothers and fathers are interchangeable, and that sex is irrelevant to parenting. Once same-sex marriage becomes legally and socially acceptable, more women will decide to raise children together. Teen aged boys without fathers are at risk for juvenile delinquency, violence, criminal activity, gang membership, and incarceration. Teen aged girls without fathers are at risk for early sexual activity, multiple sex partners, out of wedlock pregnancies, and sexually transmitted disease. Same-sex marriage is perfectly contrary to the principle of marriage, having more resemblance to divorce and adultery, same-sex marriage purposely separates a child from at least one biological parent, thereby creating broken homes, not as a matter of extraordinary circumstances, but as routine. Same-sex marriage proponents callously ignore a child's Natural Right to know, and be raised by, both biological parents, and make the most preposterous and pretentious claim that marriage was instituted by civil society primarily for the benefit of any two loving adults. Take away Natural Laws, and that moral tie which supports justice and honesty in a whole nation and establishes also particular duties in families, or in other relations of life; and man becomes the most savage and ferocious of all animals,licentiousness becomes the consequence of independence. After what has been said, let us be satisfied with observing, that the fitness in favor of the sanction of traditional marriage, is so much stronger and more pressing, as same-sex marriage throws into the system of humanity an obscurity and confusion, which borders on very much upon the absurd, if it does not come quite close up to it. There is, certainly, no comparison between traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, in respect to beauty and fitness; the first is a work of the most perfect reason; the second is defective, and provides no manner of remedy against a great many disorders. Now even this alone points out sufficiently on which side the truth lies, and to reject this truth leads us insensibly to a kind of pyrrhonism, which would also be a subversion of the Rule of Law and social order. Here are two truths regarding marriage: (1) A man creating a family with another man is not equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both. Same-sex marriage PURPOSELY separates a child from at least one biological parent. Non-biological parents lack the advantage of consanguineous insight leaving them all too often ill-prepared to protect the child from unfamiliar hazards. Left unrecognized and unattended, vicious habits, and irregular passions, obfuscate the mind; and neglect, levity, and prejudices of the ill-equipped non-biological parents precipitate a child into the grossest of errors, rendering the child's conduct a burden to the happiness of both society and the life of the child. Same-sex marriage disregards the natural order of procreatory responsibility, not only confusing the natural disposition of parental authority; but undermining the legal principle that children have a right to a relationship with their biological parents, depriving a child access to their biological parent’s genetic, cultural and social heritage, not for extraordinary circumstances, but as a matter of routine. Same-sex marriage amounts to institutionalized adultery through a hostile takeover of civil society by the State. Children will no longer be entitled to their biological parents, as the transitory wants of same-sex adults will have taken precedence over a child’s best interest. Children are not pets one purchases from rescue shelters(adoption clinics) and puppy mills(insemination and surrogacy). Children are human beings endowed with a natural desire to be procreated from an engendered act of love between a husband and a wife. Same-sex marriage is adulterous by nature and thereby destructive to not only children, but to civilization. Same-sex marriage proponents selfishly demand “Marriage Equality”, yet, in return, they offer LESS-THAN-EQUAL protection of the child’s happiness than can be afforded through the presence of both biological parents. In the name of"Marriage Equality", same-sex marriage leaves the child fully cognizant that his family is, in all truth, not at all "equal", natural, nor complete. The use of the term "marriage Equality" by same-sex marriage proponents selfishly ignores the child's perspective of "equality". Same-sex marriage proponents profess that it is love which gives the right to join the institution of marriage, yet, in doing so, they selfishly violate the principle LOVING objective of this noble institution; to protect a child’s Natural Right to be raised by both biological parents. In fine, same-sex marriage surmounts to nothing more than an unnatural extravagance which the supporters most ignorantly claim to be a “right”. “No one has a right to do that which, if everybody did it, would destroy society.” ---Immanuel Kant
Mike R
Wed, 04/24/2013 - 1:26pm
Mr. Burlamaqui's diatribe avoids or overlooks several inconvenient facts: 1) there is no scientific, epidemiological, or sociological study or evidence of any kind tending to prove that being raised by a same sex couple is worse for a child than being raised by a single parent, divorced parents, foster parents, or in an institution; 2) there is as much or more anecdotal evidence that it is, or can be, much better than any of those as there is anecdotal evidence to the contrary; 3) no one is disputing that it would be great (if not ideal) if every child could be raised by his or her married, committed, loving biological mother and father; that is, unfortunately, not reality, and apparently is not a likely future reality as the marriage rate continues to decline and the divorce rate continues to climb; 4) except for cases where the state intervenes for the child's protection, in a single parent or institutional scenario the biological mother and/or father has voluntarily removed him- or herself from the relationship with the child, thus perpetrating the very evils Mr. Burlamaqui seeks to attribute to the individual homosexual person or same sex couple; and 5) all of the arguments raised by Mr. Burlamaqui, most particularly his "two truths", are assumptions and assertions rooted in religious belief and not objective evidence. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they are beliefs only and not facts or logic, no matter how long or passionate his argument.
Thu, 04/25/2013 - 9:21am
I believe the point being made by Mr. Burlamaqui and you agreed is that hetrosexual marriage is the ideal that we are hoping all families could be. He does not state that all families will be such, nor that some child care and rearing situations aren't relatively better than others. You've completely misstated his point that heterosexual marriage is the idea and that redefining marriage to an any of the above definition just further muddles an already troubled institution.
Donald Wasserman
Wed, 04/24/2013 - 1:02pm
The comments on this article pretty much make the case for marriage equality.
Mary Pollock
Mon, 04/29/2013 - 9:22am
If I remember correctly, 90 percent of the recorded funding behind Proposal 2004-02 came from Catholic diocese funds.