Struggle for marriage equality continues

A Michigan constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage since 2004 was overturned last month, allowing about 300 couples to legally marry based on equal protection under the law.

Colette Seguin Beighley, director of the LGBT Resource Center at Grand Valley State University, said the ban was only lifted temporarily, though. Seguin Beighley explained that after about one day, the state attorney general appealed it. A few days later, the federal appeals court put an indefinite “stay” in place, which means that more same-sex couples cannot marry legally in Michigan. However, the U.S. attorney general said these couples will be legally recognized if they married before the stay.

“The stay is not unexpected,” Seguin Beighley said. “It’s a states’ rights issue that states have historically been able to decide the marriage issue.”

She added that she hopes the issue will go to a higher court, because the “rights of a marginalized community shouldn’t be put to a vote of the people.”

“The Michigan Supreme Court striking down this constitutional amendment impacts all of us because we were living in a state that institutionalized discrimination,” Seguin Beighley said. “We all experience greater freedom when those inequities are removed.”

Kim Ranger, a GVSU liaison librarian in the liberal arts programs, has had personal experiences with marriage equality in Michigan. Ranger said she and her partner married in 2007 at a Quaker church in Grand Rapids that recognizes and supports same-sex marriages. The next year, they went to California for a conference and to pick up the marriage licenses they had applied for online. A Justice of the Peace performed the ceremony, making them legally married in 2008.

Despite this, Ranger said Michigan does not recognize their marriage because its state laws are different than California’s. Michigan only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman. Ranger said this poses a personal problem for them because they have to pay legal fees for the same opportunities that opposite sex couples receive automatically when they get married.

“I’d like to have my marriage recognized,” Ranger said. “I think we have a big economic disparity, and we also have a lack of comparable rights in Michigan. For me, this is a human rights issue.”

At GVSU, Ranger is a member of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Association’s Steering Committee. Since 2006, it has worked with Human Resources to provide programs for same-sex couples to receive health benefits. One of these is the household member benefits program that covers all couples at the university. The LGBT FSA provides resources and support for the LGBT Resource Center and its events, especially those that relate to social or legal issues for marriage equality.

The ban has also impacted college students and their relationships. Leslie Boker, president of Out ‘N’ About and a senior at GVSU, has been engaged since this winter. The overturning of the amendment gave the couple a temporary sense of excitement that they might be able to marry legally in Michigan.

“We were left to consider how hard people who don’t even know us will fight to keep us from being able to have the same kind of relationship recognition that so many of our opponents enjoy,” Boker said.

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