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Same-sex domestic partners of Michigan state employees will continue to receive health benefits after the Michigan Supreme Court decided not to take up an appeal on the issue, the AP reported yesterday morning. In a unanimous order from Wednesday that was released yesterday, the court expressed skepticism that it should hear the case.
In 2011, Michigan’s Civil Service Commission voted against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s wishes and mandated that state health insurance plans must cover non-family members who have lived for more than a year with a state employee. Attorney General Bill Schuette challenged the move in court.
An Ingham County judge ruled that the commission’s decision did not conflict with Michigan State Proposal — 04-2, a voter-approved constitutional amendment from 2004 that outlawed marriage equality and civil unions in the state. A divided appeals court issued a decision in January that said the courts were in no place to second-guess whether the state had acted correctly or not. After this week’s Supreme Court ruling, that decision will stand as final.
Michigan has some of the most stringent laws in the country against legal recognition of same-sex couples’ unions. In 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled that public universities in the state could not offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples. As the AP noted in its piece, because of that ruling and the 2004 amendment, many public employers in the state have transitioned to offering benefits for “other eligible individuals” in employees’ households, a classification that could include–but does not specifically reference–gay partners.
In 2011, Gov. Snyder signed a law that prohibited health benefits for domestic partners of public employees, although the provision did not apply to public universities. That law has been challenged in court. Another LGBT rights lawsuit, DeBoer v. Snyder, is currently pending in a federal district court in Michigan. In that case, Judge Bernard Friedman invited the plaintiffs to amend their complaint–which had originally focused only on adoption rights–to challenge Michigan’s marriage equality ban. In March, Judge Friedman placed the case on hold until a final decision by the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 case and the Windsor challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.
By Jacob Combs
For the first time, a Quinnipiac public opinion poll shows majority support for marriage equality among Americans, with 50 percent in support and 41 percent opposed to equal marriage rights. Nine percent of respondents took neither position on the issue.
As in virtually every other poll to examine the issue, the Quinnipiac poll found support varied amongst different demographic groups as might be expected. Two-thirds of Republicans said they oppose marriage equality (66 percent to 24 percent), while more than two-thirds of Democrats support it (69 percent to 24 percent). A majority of independent voters (52 percent) favored equal marriage rights, with 39 percent opposed.
Women were markedly more supportive of marriage equality (52 percent to 40 percent) than men were (47 percent to 43 percent). Whites and Hispanics showed identical margins of support (51 percent to 41 percent), while black respondents were opposed 48 percent to 43 percent. In general, support was higher amongst respondents who were college-educated and who were wealthier, although both non-college-educated respondents and all income groups were more supportive of marriage equality than opposed to it. Respondents who had a gay family member or friend supported equal marriage rights by a 57 to 34 percent margin.
Among religious groups, a majority of Catholics supports marriage equality (55 percent to 38 percent), while the numbers for Protestants were essentially flipped (55 percent opposed to 36 percent in favor). In one remarkable data point, the Quinnipiac survey found that while white born-again evangelicals who were college-educated opposed marriage equality 70 percent to 24 percent, white born-again evangelicals without a college degree supported equal marriage rights 54 percent to 37 percent.
Perhaps most intriguingly, Quinnipiac asked in its survey whether “each state should make its own law on whether same-sex marriage is legal or illegal” or whether the issue “should be decided for all states on the basis of the U.S. Constitution.” By a 56 to 36 percent margin, respondents favored a Constitution-based policy rather than one that allowed each state to make its own determination. (In fact, every demographic group except Republicans favored marriage equality based on the Constitution, and Republicans were only split 49 percent to 45 percent.)
Americans’ preference (at least according to Quinnipiac) for a constitutional determination of marriage equality could very well be influenced in part by last week’s Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, in which both laws were subject to consideration in light of the U.S. Constitution. During oral arguments in the Prop 8 case, nearly all of the Justices seemed to favor a decision with national implications: the liberals were skeptical of a California-only ruling (or the so-called ‘eight state’ solution for the states with civil unions) as opposed to a broad decision for nationwide marriage equality, while the conservatives favored a ruling that all states could decide for themselves whether same-sex couples could be allowed to marry.
The Supreme Court is often loathe to get ahead of public opinion. On this issue, however, the American public’s feelings seem clear–not only in favor of marriage equality, but also in favor of a court-sactioned right to equal marriage rights for LGBT Americans in all 50 states.
By Matt Baume
Anti-gay comments overshadow the Superbowl, but they can’t stop progress in Arizona, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. We have new legislation and strong polling to carry marriage forward from coast to coast. Plus, amicus briefs in the Prop 8 case.
Last week a member of the San Francisco 49ers drew fire for openly rejecting the possibility of having gay teammates. Team management distanced themselves form his remarks. But others players followed that up by claiming that they hadn’t made an It Gets Better video that they actually had. Meanwhile, a player on the rival Baltimore Ravens has been an outspoken supporter of the freedom to marry. Brendon Ayanbadejo said he’ll reach out to the 49ers and to the public on the issue of marriage.
Meanwhile in Arizona, State Senator Steve Gallardo has introduced two marriage equality bills. One would repeal the existing constitutional ban on marriage, and the other would repeal the state’s statutory ban. This may seem like a long shot, but the polling is actually pretty encouraging. A Public Policy Polling survey from a year ago showed a near-tie, with 44% supporting marriage equality and 45% against.
A political action committee in Michigan is collecting signatures to put marriage equality on the ballot. Marriage Michigan PAC wants to gather 300,000 signatures and raise $10 million for a 2014 vote. But Equality Michigan is skeptical about the effort. They’ve been laying the groundwork for a ballot measure in 2016. Polling in Michigan has steadily improved, but it’s still close.A November survey showing 56% support.
We also have new polling data from Hawaii, with support now at 55% to 37% opposed. Legislators may vote on marriage equality bills in the coming months. There’s also a lawsuit in progress over the state’s marriage ban.
Numbers are even stronger in Rhode Island, where 57% support marriage to 36% opposed. A marriage bill passed the House last month but it’s slowed down in the Senate.
And there’s new data from Pennsylvania, where we have a plurality of support. Forty-seven percent favor marriage, with 43% opposed. That’s a slow but steady improvement over the last decade in the state. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party added marriage equality to the official party platform last year, and several pro-equality legislators won their elections in November. Pennsylvania may become a state to watch in the next year for renewed efforts to pass a marriage bill.
There’s been progress in Wyoming, where a domestic partnership bill advanced further than any such measure ever has before. Although the bill ultimately failed in a House vote, it was the first time that any pro-LGBT legislation made it that far in the state legislature.
And finally this week, various groups have filed amicus briefs in support of Prop 8 with the US Supreme Court. The next milestone will be briefs from the plaintiffs on February 21st, briefs in support of the plaintiffs a week after that, and then oral argument on March 26th.
We’ll have more news on the Prop 8 case, as well as developments from the states, in the coming weeks. Subscribe on YouTube, @AFER on Twitter, and at Facebook.com/AmericanEqualRights for the latest. You can also pledge your support at AFER.org and sign up for breaking email alerts.