June 24 2013 12:00 AM

State House Democrats introduce LGBT marriage equality bills

State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, speaks about the Freedom to Marry package of bills in front of the Capitol, he was joined by other Democratic politicians and gay rights activists Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Monday, June 24 — Democratic state representatives and gay rights activists introduced legislation this morning to legalize same-sex marriage in Michigan. They’re calling the package of bills “Freedom to Marry.”

“My colleagues and I believe that Michigan cannot wait any longer to recognize marriage equality and allow all people the equal rights and benefits that married couples currently enjoy,” Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said in a statement.

State Representatives Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield; Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Kate Segal, D-Battle Creek; and Singh sponsored the legislation introduced today. Singh and Irwin were at a press conference this morning in front of the Capitol to announce the legislation.

The effort is a four-bill package that includes a house joint resolution that would repeal the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in Michigan. The bill would then put the question of marriage equality before the voters in 2014. The second bill would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. The third bill amends Michigan’s marriage laws saying who can get married. And the fourth bill is a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which doesn’t recognize gay marriage on a federal level.

Along with the marriage equality legislation introduced by Michigan lawmakers, it’s also a key week for gay rights on a national front as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the legality of two laws related to same-sex marriage — California’s Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, and DOMA.

“History is changing right before our eyes,” Irwin said, speaking to the fact that the majority of Michigan residents support marriage equality. A Glengariff Group poll in May found nearly 57 percent of Michigan voters would vote for a constitutional amendment permitting same-sex marriage.

“Our Michigan legislators are choosing to be on the right side of history,” said Emily Dievendorf, president of Equality Michigan, a gay rights advocacy group. “We’re making a statement today that Michiganders need to be treated equally under the law.”

The package will no doubt face some opposition from House Republicans, but Singh said a “growing number of Republicans” have changing attitudes toward marriage equality just as the attitude of the voters has changed. He spoke to the GOP’s mantra of “personal freedom” as a reason they should support the effort.

“I’m glad the Legislature has followed the will of the people for a change and that these particular people are doing what’s needed to move this forward,” said Penny Gardner, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights. “I understand privilege because I was married to a man at one point. My partner doesn’t have those same privileges. I’m aware of that all the time and I would like our constitution and our state laws to see that those of us who aren’t heterosexual have the same rights to protect each other and care for our families.”

Gardner said the national movement surrounding the move towards marriage equality has been astounding. In recent months, several states have voted to allow same-sex marriage and she hopes Michigan will follow. Twelve states allow same-sex marriage, with Minnesota being the latest.

“I’m astounded by how fast this has been,” she said. “Five years ago it was a sleeper, but now it’s like dominos falling. It seems like every week there’s another state that passes equality laws. Wouldn’t it be nice if Michigan can be part of these dominos of inequality falling?”

There is also a Democratic effort in the Senate to enact similar legislation in support of the LGBT community. Legislation introduced by Senators Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor; Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing; Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park; and Virgil Smith, D-Detroit, would do the same things as the legislation introduced today by House Dems.

Warren also recently introduced legislation that would amend the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights act to include protections against discrimination in housing, employment and public services for those who are LGBT.