March 26 2014 12:00 AM

After religion, little grounds left for opponents of same-sex marriage

On Saturday afternoon, Penny Gardner and her partner, Marilyn Bowen, went to a celebratory lunch with their newlywed friends Jody Valley and Elaine Thomason at Beggar’s Banquet in East Lansing. Earlier that day, Valley and Thomason were one of 57 same-sex couples to receive a marriage license from Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum and one of at least 30 who got married.

There were congratulatory balloons at their table. The restaurant bought them a bottle of champagne. Cheers rang through Beggar’s as it was served, said Gardner, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights.

“It was a moment of recognition, elation, love, dignity — just the way it ought to be,” she said. “There wasn’t any worry that maybe someone would be offended. It was a wonderful day.

“And then Schuette came on.”

What started as a historical, momentous Saturday for same-sex couples married in Ingham, Oakland, Washtenaw and Muskegon counties ended with confusion. Bill Schuette, Michigan’s “messianic attorney general,” as the Detroit Free Press called him in an editorial, made good on his promise to defend a 10-yearold state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Michigan. In part, because he says it’s the “will of the people” — but also because “diversity in parents is best for kids and families because moms and dads are not interchangeable,” his office announced after the ruling.

Nothing like celebrating diversity by excluding diversity.

Before many could have even returned home from the store with their own celebratory champagne early Friday evening, Schuette appealed to a higher court to halt U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s decision lifting Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriages. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Schuette’s stay late Saturday afternoon but not before 321 same-sex couples around the state received marriage licenses from their county clerks. At least 299 got hitched. The plaintiffs asked the appellate court to lift the stay on Tuesday, in part because the status quo is not in the public’s interest, they argue. They were unsuccessful, as the stay was extended indefinitely on Tuesday.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, marriage equality has a perfect record in court decisions. Bans like Michigan’s have been ruled unconstitutional in Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and New Mexico. In Kentucky, a federal judge lifted the ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

But in his role, Schuette is the bandleader for a population drifting into the “fringe,” as Judge Friedman put it. And he’s the orchestrator of the flawed legal argument that same-sex parents threaten the institution of marriage — despite mounds of sociological research on the contrary, according to Friedman.

At the end of the day, the opposition to samesex marriage has no legal basis, but rather a religion-rooted worldview that denies rights to those who are different.

Schuette’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment. In the recent case that involved a lesbian couple from Detroit, the state argued that opposite-sex parents are necessary for “healthy psychological development”; that there are “unintended consequences” in redefining marriage; that same-sex marriage does not uphold “tradition and morality”; and that stable unions only come from “naturally procreative relationships.”

Gov. Rick Snyder says he will not take a position on the case until it plays out in the courts. While he says he doesn’t like to weigh in on social issues, he said in a 2010 gubernatorial debate against Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero that “marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Others are cheering for Schuette on the sidelines.

‘Nature created marriage’
“Marriage is and can only ever be a unique relationship solely between one man and one woman, regardless of the decision of a judge or future electoral vote,” according to a statement issued by the Michigan Catholic Conference after Friedman’s ruling. The statement was co-signed by seven Catholic bishops in Michigan, including Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing. “Nature itself, not society, religion or government, created marriage.

“In effect, this decision advances a misunderstanding of marriage, and mistakenly proposes that marriage is an emotional arrangement that can simply be redefined to accommodate the dictates of culture and the wants of adults.”

The statement goes on with the church’s hate-the-sin-not-the-sinner mantra and that it “rejoices” for same-sex couples who don’t actually have sex. The group pledges to “collaborate” with those defending the marriage amendment “and will assist to the greatest extent possible efforts to appeal Judge Friedman’s most regrettable ruling.”

Michael Diebold, spokesman for the diocese, declined to comment beyond the statement.

The problem with the save-the-children argument is that it was debunked by multiple scholars during the DeBoer trial.

“Decades of social science research studies indicate that there is no discernible difference in parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts,” Friedman wrote in his 31-page opinion. What really matters is the “quality of parent-child relationships and the quality of the relationships between parents.”

When Mark Regnerus, a researcher from the University of Texas, testified that children are better off with opposite-sex parents, Friedman discredited the testimony, finding it “entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” Those making such arguments, Friedman wrote, “clearly represent a fringe viewpoint that is rejected by the vast majority of their colleagues across a variety of social science fields.”

For equal protection, against gay marriage
Bishop David Maxwell, director of the city of Lansing’s Office of Community and Faith-based Initiatives, believes Friedman made the right call in declaring Michigan’s law unconstitutional. But Maxwell personally doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage, nor would he officiate over a samesex marriage ceremony.

“I don’t think you should make any laws that will abridge or otherwise discriminate and disenfranchise any person because of race, color, religion or sexual preference,” said Maxwell, who is also the pastor at Eliezer Temple Church in Lansing. “That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with same-sex marriage… We must be careful not to impose religious beliefs on a broader population.”

As part of the African-American clergy, “We have a greater tolerance, we believe, for the rights of people, even when we disagree with them and (our beliefs are) polar opposite,” he said. “We have a greater degree of tolerance because of our history of ourselves being disenfranchised because of our color.”

Maxwell said Schuette is exercising his right to appeal and hopes Schuette is acting “strictly upon a legal argument … and not his own moral interpretation or religious beliefs.”

Maxwell also recognized that public opinion is changing in favor of equality since the marriage amendment passed in 2004. Yet Schuette’s reasoning for appeal is based on his belief that same-sex parents are bad for raising children and that he’s upholding the will of the voters, albeit from 10 years ago.

Put discrimination to a vote
Rick Jones, the Republican state senator from Grand Ledge, also falls in the one-man, one-woman crowd. He thinks the same marriage amendment question should be put to voters again, though he declined to say how he would vote. He thinks it’d have a “50/50” chance of passing.

“The fear is that a lot of pastors and priests are afraid they’d be forced to do marriages they don’t religiously agree with,” he said. “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman. But if it’s put on the ballot and people vote for it, then so be it.”

When asked if he feels that Schuette’s fight is a waste of taxpayer resources, Jones said Schuette is “simply following the will of the people because of the vote in 2004.”

The problem with Jones’ position is two-fold. For one, the latest polling shows that Michigan voters would vote against the same ballot proposal if it were held today, let alone a majority of national support for same-sex marriage. In May, the Lansing polling firm EPIC MRA found that 55 percent would support a constitutional amendment here allowing same-sex marriage and 41 percent said they would oppose it.

Secondly, in his written opinion, Friedman cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent saying a citizen-initiated referendum — even if it’s the view of the majority — can’t discriminate. “The electorate cannot order a violation of the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses by referendum or otherwise …” In other words, even if Jones got to cast his vote in an election tomorrow, and somehow it passed again, it still wouldn’t be constitutional.

Moreover, judges in other states where same-sex marriage bans were ruled unconstitutional have consistently said state laws violate the federal Equal Protection Clause, which an attorney general — a lawyer, in fact — might know supersedes state law.

Meanwhile, Byrum and East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday urging the federal government to recognize Saturday’s same-sex marriages in Michigan. Snyder has indicated the state will not recognize them as the appeal is pending.

Lansing attorney Douglas Meeks and his partner, Greg McNeilly, also married in Ingham County during the Saturday morning window. reported over the weekend that McNeilly is a GOP strategist and was formerly the campaign manager of former gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, who opposed same-sex marriage during the 2006 campaign. Referring to leaders of the party, such as Schuette, McNeilly told MLive: “Obviously I support them but I don’t necessarily support them in all things they do. We’re a big, inclusive party, a very tolerant party that allows for a wide range of perspectives.”

But Meeks wants to avoid the winners and losers paradigm. He said Schuette’s appeal is just the next step in the legal process, and one that often happens.

“I think the LGBT community had a huge win moving forward on Friday. The rest of it is posturing regarding the appeals process,” he said. “I’m confident Judge Friedman got it right and the constitutional analysis he put forward was the appropriate one.”

When asked what role he thinks the Bill Schuettes of the world have going forward, Meeks said: “You’re setting up the equation of us versus them. The fact of the matter is: The Equal Protection clause indicates a majority can’t discriminate against a minority when looking at equal rights.

“As to Bill Schuette or those who believe along those lines, they’re more than capable of believing those things. But the federal government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. It should pick equality.”

“In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’ … (the state) lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples.”

— U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s opinion ruling Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional