Activists fighting for LGBT rights in Michigan are encouraged by the news that a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found a California law banning same-sex marriage violates the civil rights of gays and lesbians.
The decision upheld an earlier ruling on California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman in the state's constitution, and opponents of the measure are calling it a victory -- at least for LGBT Californians.
Denise Brogan-Kator, the executive director of Equality Michigan, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, said she felt "unfiltered joy" at the news of the decision. But she admitted the judges' ruling was unlikely to directly affect LGBT Michiganders.
"Whether it affects it in the hearts and minds of Michigan residents remains to be seen," she said. "We're hopeful the more dialogue we have about this type of thing, the more dialogue we have about discrimination against gays and lesbians in our society I think the better, and that will eventually lead to marriage equality."
A "one-man-one-woman" amendment to Michigan's Constitution passed with 59 percent of the vote in a 2004 statewide referendum. The amendment's language is broad, and the state Supreme Court has interpreted it not only to prohibit same-sex marriage, but also to limit civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Michigan Family Forum, the state branch of Focus on the Family that sponsored the 2004 ballot initiative, did not return repeated requests for comment Tuesday.
The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on grounds of discrimination after its passage, and won in Ingham Country trial court in 2005. However, the state's appeals court appealed and overturned that decision in 2007 and the state Supreme Court upheld the law in 2008.
Jay Kaplan, the LGBT legal project staff attorney for ACLU Michigan, said the state has one of the broadest constitutional prohibitions on the recognition of same-sex relationships. But the court's 2008 decision stifled activism favoring same-sex marriage in the state.
"Most LGBT organizations are waiting to see what happens with California," Kaplan said. "That's the first significant federal litigation and people are waiting to see how this turns out. If the language is narrow, then it remains to be seen how much this goes beyond California."
California Prop 8 supporters say they intend to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kaplan said a decision from the high court might bring the best outcome for those seeking to overturn Michigan's gay marriage ban. He added praise for Tuesday's Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.
"It's wrong for a state to bar people from the fundamental right to marry," Kaplan said. "Today's decision confirms that's unconstitutional."
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