Michigan Court of Appeals Gets it Right
In a unanimous decision Friday upholding the 2004 marriage initiative, appellate judges Kurtis Wilder, Joel Hoekstra and Brian Zahra declared “The protection of the institution of marriage is a long-standing public policy and tradition in the law of Michigan”. Siding with Attorney General Mike Cox, the three-judge panel reversed a March 2005 ruling by an Ingham County judge that would have allowed “domestic partner benefits” in the state. The case is expected to be appealed to the supreme court by the 21 petitioners, gay employees of the city of Kalamazoo, universities and the state.
For now, the state, cities, and public universities in Michigan can not provide health insurance to the partners of gay employees.
This suit resembles one decided by the Alaskan supreme court in October of 2005. Filed by gay couples employed by the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska, the suit sought to give same-sex partners the benefits of marriage, without requiring the responsibilities of marriage. The two courts could not have ruled more differently. Where Michigan ruled marriage-like benefits illegal, the Alaskan court decided they were not just allowed, but mandated by the constitution.
The different rulings can be traced directly to the wording of the respective marriage amendments. In 1998, Alaskans voted to add the words “To be valid or recognized in this State, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman”. Short and to the point. In 2004, Michiganders added a more verbose “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.” The final 6 words make all the difference.
While it can be argued that voters in Alaska and Michigan had the same goal in mind when passing their respective marriage amendments, clearly the voters of Michigan did a much better job in choosing their words wisely.
The judges did not declare their own feelings as to whether same-sex partners should receive benefits, but stuck to the letter of the law. "It is a cornerstone of a democratic form of government to assume that a free people act rationally in the exercise of power, are presumed to know what they want, and to have understood the proposition submitted to them in all of its implications, and by their approval vote to have determined that the proposal is for the public good and expresses the free opinion of a sovereign people", wrote the court.
Click to See Michigan Amendment
Click to See Alaskan Amendment