Recently, the Michigan Civil Service Commission voted 3-1 to allow benefits to state employees in same-sex relationships. The decision applies to three labor unions in the state, covering 70 percent of employees in Michigan, though only a small fraction of those are homosexual and would actually choose to use the same-sex benefits.
It’s a great step towards equality in the state of Michigan. Predictably, though, the controversial decision came under fire by both the Snyder administration, as well as several conservative groups.
Critics of the decision have a variety of arguments against it. They say it’s unconstitutional because a 2004 ballot initiative in Michigan found the majority of voters then believed that “the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.” They also point to a 2008 Michigan Supreme Court decision that said it is unconstitutional for university or government employees to receive same-sex benefits. Then there are the traditional arguments against same-sex benefits –– the state doesn’t have enough money and recognizing same-sex unions is an affront to the institution of marriage.
In fact, there are so many people hurling so many arguments against same-sex unions hoping that at least one of these arguments will hit home with someone that it begins to look like a pile of excuses. Yes, the decision may be unconstitutional –– but for right now, it is not up for the supreme court to decide that. It will take a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the state legislature to overturn it, at least until it goes into effect on Oct. 1, when critics of the benefits are free to try to bring it before the state Supreme Court. If it does go to the legislature –– something which is looking increasingly likely –– then those of us who support this measure for same sex benefits should go forth and write our state senators and representatives to really let them know exactly how we feel about this. We must do our part to make sure this decision stands, so that people in same-sex relationships, whose love is just as valid as those in heterosexual relationships, can enjoy the same benefits of this great state we live in.
Furthermore, this is not the same Michigan as it was in 2004. There is a new administration in office in the state of Michigan. According to the last U.S. census, we are the only state that lost population between 2000 and 2010. Gov. Rick Snyder spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher told mlive.com on Dec. 22, 2010 that the population change in Michigan “just reinforces the need for reinventing Michigan, putting our fiscal house in order and really focusing on creating an economic posture that will allow our young people to stay in the state and get jobs.” I couldn’t agree more with Lasher and the governor. It is a new decade, a new administration, a new time in the state. We are reinventing the economy and reinventing Michigan. It is time for us to stop making excuses and start working toward a better Michigan, an equal Michigan, a Michigan we can all live together peacefully.
If the same-sex benefits stand, perhaps it would encourage more people to move here, homosexual people who are seeking recognition, people who just want to be in love and get married, people who can’t find that recognition in other states. We are on the precipice of re-inventing Michigan – why not start by encouraging people to stay, or even to come here, rather than encouraging even more people to leave?
So yes, maybe it’s unconstitutional. And yes, the state economy is still in a bad condition –– and maybe the state legislature will vote this decision down. But same-sex couples deserve a chance in this new Michigan we are creating. They deserve to be able to be with the ones they love and have the recognition that so many straight couples enjoy.
There is still hope. The Michigan Civil Service Commission gave same-sex couples a chance for equality by voting this in. Let’s not let that chance fail, in the legislature or in the supreme court. Let’s write our senators and representatives and work to make sure this sticks. If we do, maybe this time Michigan really will make a step forward into the future and we can live in a Michigan where all love is recognized, regardless of who is straight and who is gay, a Michigan where we are all truly equal in the laws of the land.