DOMA aftermath

By Andy Balaskovitz

One local couple waiting to see how U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Defense of Marriage Act will play out in Michigan

Wednesday, June 26 — While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act today, it remains to be seen how same-sex partners in Michigan will be affected by the ruling.

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, who nine years ago married his partner Brad Rakowski in Windsor, Ontario, is unclear how today’s DOMA ruling would affect the couple’s ability to qualify for both federal and state benefits. The couple's marriage is legally recognized in Canada, but not in Michigan. Late last month, Rakowski and Swope filed their marriage certificate with Ingham County to seek the same property rights protections as marriages between a man and a woman.

In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1996 law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples is unconstitutional as a matter of equal protection.

Swope said it might lead to a situation in which he and Rakowski can file joint federal, but not state, tax returns. Also, it could be a situation in which shared benefits would be taxed as income under Michigan law, but not federal law, Swope said.

“It still leaves a few questions,” Swope said, referring to how he and Rakowski would qualify for federal and state benefits.

However, he’s hopeful that the DOMA case “opens the door for more cases to be heard that expand our rights.”

“I think (the Supreme Court’s) finding that it’s a deprivation of equal liberty is exactly correct,” Swope said.

In a separate case today, the Supreme Court also paved the way for allowing same-sex marriage in California. A federal court there had overturned the state’s Proposition 8, which passed in 2008 and only recognized marriages between a man and a woman. That ruling was overturned in appellate court. Today, the Supreme Court said that same-sex marriage opponents didn’t have standing to appeal the lower court’s ruling that overturned the ban.

While the Prop 8 ruling was limited to California, state legislators here are hoping to overturn Michigan’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. State Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, was part of a group of House Democrats that introduced a package of bills Monday seeking to expand the rights of same-sex partners.

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 DOMA, “Which we now have found out this week is unconstitutional,” Singh said today during a taping of “City Pulse Newsmakers.”

“We still have a lot of work to do here in Michigan,” Singh said. “It’s about righting the wrong that was done in 2004.”