As more and more states in the Union have adopted policies embracing equality for same-sex couples, the United States Supreme Court is poised to decide the debate once and for all. The Court is expected to deliver a verdict that could legalize same-sex marriage across the nation. However, although 37 states have legalized marriage equality, others are taking a more retroactive approach, banning the union of same-sex couples outright or passing discriminatory laws under the guise of “religious freedom.” The debacle in Indiana was one of the most recent and attention-grabbing examples of this trend, involving the infamous Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Unfortunately, the State of Michigan became the next to infringe upon the rights of the LGBTQ community when Governer Rick Snyder signed into law a measure put forth by Republican majorities in both houses that would allow religious-based adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Michigan, in general, does not have a good track record in the field of equality. Sexual activity between same sex couples was completely illegal in the state until 2003, when the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down the sodomy laws in Texas and invalidated them in other states as well, including Michigan. A state constitutional amendment was then passed by popular vote the following year, thereby banning both gay marriage and civil unions in the state. Throughout the years thereafter, Michigan routinely continued to limit the rights of LGBTQ people, such as when the state Legislature banned state government agencies from granting domestic partnerships to same-sex couples, a measure later struck down by a federal judge. This is only scratching the surface. And it only covers issues related to sexual orientation. Gender identity protections (or lack thereof) in the state is a very serious problem as well.
This latest “religious freedom” act permitting the refusal of same-sex couples by adoption agencies for religious reasons was purportedly voted on in a rushed manner, and never appeared on the Senate’s official agenda. The measure consisted of three bills: House Bills 4188, 4189, and 4190, all of which passed with the vote falling along party lines. As the Detroit Free Press describes, Republican lawmakers claim that this measure is to protect faith-based adoption agencies, which pocket about half of all state funding to support adoption. But this argument falls flat when you consider the fact that 13,000 children are currently awaiting good homes in the state, and realize that quibbling over Christian feelings about LGBTQ issues is more important to the Michigan Republican Party than these children’s well-being. Fortunately, there is hope: the American Civil Liberties Union may be presenting a lawsuit against these new laws, and the United States Supreme Court may yet rule in support of same-sex couples at the end of June. Only time will tell.
The plain truth of the matter is that Michigan’s history on LGBTQ issues is a blemish on its good name, and this latest move by the Republican-controlled state government simply adds to its shame. This is unfortunate; Michigan has many good things to offer, and residents of the state have a lot of which they can be proud, their geographical landmarks, exceptionally rich history, and abundant diversity being only a few examples. The attention being brought from these “religious freedom” laws is not the kind that Michigan wants or needs. The only way to save face now is to radically change the direction in which the state is heading, which will have to take form in a radical shift in the leadership of the state. And, unfortunately, it does not look like that will be coming any time soon, short of a Supreme Court intervention.